The NFL has denied the appeals of four players suspended in connection with the league’s bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints, including Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.
In a ruling handed down Tuesday, Goodell told Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Fujita that he retains “the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion.
“The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story,” Goodell said. “You are each still welcome to do so.”
Vilma is suspended for the entire 2012 season, and Smith will miss four games. Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended eight games, and Fujita was suspended three games.
The NFL Players Association issued a statement saying it will continue to pursue all options.
“The players are disappointed with the League’s conduct during this process,” the statement said. “We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement.
“Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.”
When Fujita missed the final five games last season with a broken hand he suffered in Week 12 at Cincinnati, starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong replaced Fujita on the strong side, and Kaluka Maiava entered the starting lineup on the weak side. Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron told the Beacon Journal on June 7 that he plans to insert Maiava again.
“Right now, that’s where we stand,” Jauron said. “Then we’ll see what happens in training camp. A lot of things can happen, but [the coaches] love Kaluka. He’s a totally team-oriented guy.”
Jauron said rookies James-Michael Johnson, a fourth-round pick, and Emmanuel Acho, a sixth-round selection, could change his mind in training camp.
“James-Michael Johnson’s a really good athlete, works hard at it, compact, good size, great attitude,” Jauron said. “Acho’s a great attitude guy, really, really smart. Emmanuel’s very, very smart, can make the calls, really into the thing, a note taker, very aware.”
Maiava talked during minicamp in early June about the possibility of replacing Fujita.
“Losing Scott, whatever the final decision is, that’s out of our hands,” Maiava said. “[We’re] confident as a unit. You can tell from last year our defense was solid, and we’ll go from there. [It’s the] next man up, and we’ll wait for him to get back.”
Goodell said he did not take his initial decision lightly and also points out that players did not help their cause by refusing to participate fully in the appeal process.
Vilma and his attorney, Peter Ginsberg, walked out of the hearing early after Ginsberg raised his objections to the NFL’s handling of the entire investigation. Fujita and the other two players, who were represented by NFL Players Association attorneys, sat through the hearing to observe the NFL’s presentation of evidence, but in protest refused to present any evidence or witnesses of their own, and did not question the NFL investigators who were present at the hearing.
“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing,” Goodell wrote in his appeal ruling. “You elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore” the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL issued a report in March saying that league investigators determined the Saints ran a bounty program from 2009 to 2011 that offered improper cash payments for hits that injured targeted opponents.
The league has said former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran the program, and that General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton failed to put a stop to it despite warnings from the NFL at the end of the 2009 season.
The NFL suspended Williams indefinitely and Payton for the whole season. Loomis was suspended the first half of next season, and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games. Goodell also docked the Saints second-round draft picks this year and next and fined the club $500,000.
Browns’ Tripp arrested
Browns defensive tackle Kiante Tripp is in a Georgia jail on a burglary charge in College Park.
College Park police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Hightower says Tripp was arrested with two others Sunday afternoon at an apartment in that Atlanta suburb.
The arrest resulted from neighbors calling police to say that armed men were in the apartment. Officers arrived, heard the men through the locked front door, and then caught them fleeing through the back. Hightower says nothing was stolen.
Tripp was being held at the Fulton County Jail on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old attended the University of Georgia. He was on the Browns’ active roster for three games last season. General Manager Tom Heckert says he’s aware of what happened and had no further comment at this time.
Beacon Journal sports writer Nate Ulrich contributed to this report.