The NFL possesses written documentation detailing players' payments for big plays and big hits as part of the New Orleans Saints' "bounty" program, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
Yahoo! Sports first reported that the league has a copy of a "ledger" tracking the payments on Friday.
The documentation could be a piece of critical proof against the players involved in the program. The NFL has been reluctant to share evidence surrounding the bounty scandal, the investigation of which has spurred rebuttals, denials and grievances by the NFL Players Association and the players who have been suspended. The documentation, which details financial particulars, is believed to have been kept by a coach or a former coach, according to a source.
The NFL declined comment. The NFLPA said it has yet to be presented with the documentation, despite being alerted to its existence more than a month ago.
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"It was something we believe the league told us that they had during a meeting in April in New York," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said Friday. "We asked them to produce a copy of it then so we could examine it and review it. (The documentation) was something they referred to but has not been shown to us or given to the players as proof of their guilt. It's obvious that the players were punished before they had a chance to examine any of this information."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the season. Defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for four games. Former linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, was suspended for three games. Former defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who is with the Green Bay Packers, has been suspended for eight games. All players have appealed their punishments. The NFLPA has argued two grievances challenging Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to discipline players in this matter.
Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.
"Unfortunately, this is a consistent pattern that the NFL is trying to wage its (fight) against the players in the press rather than addressing issues in a fair and impartial forum," said Peter Ginsberg, Vilma's attorney, on Friday. "Compounding these questionable tactics, the NFL has not shown this alleged 'ledger' to us. Jonathan has never seen such a ledger and we simply do not believe this supposed evidence exists any more than the other rumored documents exist."
Players were offered the opportunity to speak with Goodell and NFL security before punishment was handed down. All declined. Vilma told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport on Thursday that he declined because the league never presented any evidence to him beforehand.