Lawyers for players appealing NFL suspensions in the New Orleans Saints bounties case cross-examined one key witness Thursday. Now they're supposed to get a chance to confront another central figure: former Saints defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is overseeing the latest round of player appeals; former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo was scheduled to take questions Thursday. Lawyers for the league and the NFL Players Association spent more than nine hours in a Washington office building.
"I am keeping with the direction of the commissioner to not talk about this," NFL senior vice-president Adolpho Birch said on his way out.
Tagliabue has insisted on keeping the contents of the private hearings under wraps. He and various lawyers attending Thursday's session declined to comment afterward.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith have said they plan to be present Friday when Williams is slated to be there. New Orleans was playing at the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
Vilma and Smith — along with two former Saints, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita — were suspended by the NFL for the Saints' cash-for-hits program that the league says Williams ran from 2009 to 2011.
Smith, Vilma playing while appeals are pending
Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the entire current season, have been playing while their appeals are pending.
The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ringleaders of a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games. The league has sworn statements from Williams and Cerullo saying Vilma offered $10,000 US to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game at the end of the 2009 season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the initial suspensions, which also included a full-season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Lawsuits brought by Vilma and the NFL Players Association to challenge Goodell's handling of the case, including his decision in October to appoint Tagliabue as the arbitrator for the appeals, are pending in federal court in New Orleans.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan gave the parties until Monday to answer questions about whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prevents a commissioner from handing out discipline for legal contact, and whether the CBA's passages about detrimental conduct are "ambiguous, hence unenforceable."