The NFL Players Association sent a letter to the NFL today reserving Browns linebacker Scott Fujita's right to appeal his three-game suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.
The appeal is pending the resolution of the jurisdictional questions the NFLPA raised last week in two grievances it filed against the NFL, the union stated. The NFLPA maintains NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is without jurisdiction to discipline the players for the conduct alleged or to rule on any appeals.
Last week, the NFL suspended Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 before signing with the Browns in 2010, and the three other players. Fujita may participate in the Browns' offseason activities, including preseason games, before the suspension is scheduled to take effect at the start the regular season.
In a statement released last week, the league said Fujita “pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts,' plays during which an opposing player was injured.”
Fujita issued his first public comments about the suspension today in a statement published on his website and e-mailed to several news organizations.
"I disagree wholeheartedly with the discipline imposed," Fujita, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, said in the statement. "I've yet to hear the specifics of any allegation against me, nor have I seen any evidence that supports what the NFL alleges.
"I look forward to the opportunity to confront what evidence they claim to have in the appropriate forum. I have never contributed money to any so-called 'bounty' pool, and any statements to the contrary are false. To say I'm disappointed with the League would be a huge understatement."
In March, Fujita told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King he paid teammates for making big plays like sacks and interceptions, but not for trying to intentionally injure opponents. Fujita has established a reputation for being an outspoken advocate of player safety issues.
As for the other disciplined players, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has appealed his season-long suspension. The union also reserved the appeal rights of Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, a former member of the Saints who was suspended for eight games, and Saints defensive end Will Smith, who was suspended for four games.
If Fujita's suspension is upheld, it would cost him about $644,117, or three-seventeenths of his $3.65 million base salary. Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson and Texas’ Emmanuel Acho, both of whom the Browns recently drafted, could receive a chance to crack the starting lineup in Fujita's absence.
Last week, the NFLPA filed two grievances
against the league. The union argues that Goodell lacks the authority to discipline players for conduct occurring before August 4, 2011, the date on which the new collective bargaining agreement was finalized. The NFLPA also argues that a CBA system arbitrator, not Goodell, has the authority to determine punishment for players under the circumstances and rule on appeals.