The NFL players' union might challenge former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue replacing Roger Goodell as the appeals officer in the Saints' bounties case.
The players association has concerns about "ethical and legal issues," a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Sunday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the union has not made any public statements.
The NFL had no comment.
Tagliabue is scheduled to hear the appeals of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Oct. 30. He was appointed Friday by Goodell, his successor as commissioner.
Tagliabue works for the law firm that is defending the league in U.S. District Court in Louisiana in the bounties case. The NFLPA believes that's a conflict of interest. The union also might contend that such "pay-for programs" existed when Tagliabue was commissioner, with his knowledge.
The NFL and the union discussed the possibility that Tagliabue would step in if Goodell recused himself from hearing the appeals, and the union also suggested "several outsiders" who could be used in place of Goodell, the person said.
Vilma was suspended for the 2012 season and Smith was banned four games for his role in the bounties program. Fujita, now with the Browns, was barred three games, since reduced to one. Hargrove is a free agent whose suspension was reduced from eight games to seven.
"I have held two hearings to date and have modified the discipline in several respects based on my recent meetings with the players," Goodell said Friday. "I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions."
Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989-2006. For part of that time, Goodell was the league's general counsel.
The collective bargaining agreement with the union that was reached to end the lockout in August 2011 gave Goodell exclusive authority to hear appeals of discipline for conduct detrimental or to appoint someone to hear and decide an appeal. Goodell periodically has appointed others to hear appeals for club fines, personal conduct suspensions and for matters concerning drug and steroid policy.
Goodell handed down the suspensions in May and they took effect in July after initial appeals were rejected by Goodell. Those suspensions lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeals panel that instructed Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending the players.
The suspensions were reissued by the NFL last week and promptly appealed by all four players. None of the suspensions is currently in effect because they were appealed within the framework of the NFL's labour agreement.
But all four players have asked U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to throw out Goodell's disciplinary rulings on the grounds he has demonstrated bias against the players in his handling of the bounty investigation. The players say Goodell violated due process.