More legal moves made in Saints' bounty case

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More legal moves made in Saints' bounty case

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the bounty investigation, calling Commissioner Roger Goodell "incurably and evidently biased." The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Thursday in federal court in New Orleans, highlighted a flurry of legal activity surrounding the punishment of four players for what the NFL says was their roles in a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. Suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is suing separately in the same court, asked a judge to overturn his suspension while also requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction that would allow the linebacker to quickly return to work and keep working while his case is pending. Goodell, meanwhile, filed a motion to dismiss defamation claims that Vilma made in his initial lawsuit against the commissioner in May. The motion, which was expected, states that Vilma is barred from making such claims by the dispute resolution process outlined in the NFL's labor agreement, which also includes a provision barring lawsuits by players against the NFL. But Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsburg, said the defamation claims focus "exclusively on statements Mr. Goodell has made publicly and outside the confines of the CBA." "Mr. Goodell cannot escape responsibility for those public statements based on an argument that statements in a different forum and in a different context might have avoided judicial scrutiny," Ginsberg said in an email. "Having the title of Commissioner' does not provide Mr. Goodell with a license to make the accusations and allegations he has made against Jonathan in public forums without facing the same scrutiny as other citizens." The Saints linebacker, whose suspension is effective immediately, wants the injunction so he may resume rehabilitating his left knee injury at Saints headquarters. Vilma is suspended for a season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith four and Fujita three. Vilma and Smith still play for New Orleans, while Hargrove is with Green Bay and Fujita with Cleveland. The NFLPA lawsuit said Goodell violated the league's labor agreement by showing he had pre-determined the guilt of players punished in the bounty probe before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing. Two days ago, Goodell denied the players' appeals, and now the NFLPA is asking a judge to set aside earlier arbitration rulings and order a new arbitrator to preside over the matter. The NFL responded that the action is an "improper attempt to litigate" and said there is "no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining." "These procedures have been in place, and have served the game and players well, for many decades," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press. The NFL has said it found that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a bounty program that paid improper cash bonuses for injuring opponents. Saints had coach Sean Payton has been suspended the entire 2012 season for failing to put a stop to it, while general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended half a season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games. Williams, now with St. Louis, is suspended indefinitely and, according to the NFL, cooperating with the investigation. The players, however, have claimed they never sought or accepted rewards for injuring opponents. Fujita has said the NFL grossly mischaracterized what was an informal accountability program for teammates to reward one another for big plays such as sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions, something players on many teams have taken part in for years. Several current Saints defensive players who have not been punished, including safety Roman Harper and linebacker Scott Shanle, have publicly defended their current and former teammates, denying that any Saints player sought to do anything more than what they were already paid to do -- deliver clean hits as hard as they could. Some players have also suggested that Goodell's bounty punishments are part of an agenda to make the league look tough on player-safety matters in order to mitigate exposure to lawsuits filed by numerous retired NFL players who claim the league failed to educate them about or prepare them for many of the long-term physical ailments, including brain disease, that a pro football career can cause. "A seminal question for this court is whether the NFL collective bargaining agreement ... granted the commissioner, when serving as an arbitrator, the authority to disregard the essence of the parties' agreement, to conduct proceedings that are fundamentally unfair, and to act with evident bias and without jurisdiction," the lawsuit states. "The answer, under governing case law, is clearly no.' "The investigation and arbitration process that the Commissioner's public relations machinery touted as thorough and fair' has, in reality, been a sham," the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit said the NFL violated the labor agreement by refusing to provide players with access to "critical documents or witnesses, or anything resembling the fairness mandated by the CBA and governing industrial due process law." The suit also states that Goodell "launched a public campaign defending the punishments he intended to arbitrate, rendering him incurably and evidently biased." The NFLPA also reiterated a claim that the CBA requires much of the "pay-for-performance" conduct outlined in the NFL's bounty investigation to be handled by a system arbitrator and not the commissioner, who has "improperly usurped" control over that process. The NFL has argued that the bounty matter falls under conduct detrimental to the league, which the commissioner has authority to punish. Two arbitration rulings so far have ruled in the NFL's favor on that matter, but the NFLPA lawsuit says the NFL's handling of the bounty matter amounts to a "rare case" in which the arbitrators' previous rulings should be set aside. The union contends one arbitrator, Stephen Burbank, based his ruling on a statement that he saw his jurisdiction covering only improper payments made to players, but not the payments the NFL has said players made into the bounty pool. "This distinction cannot be justified by the CBA, nor can it override the fact that the NFLPA has never agreed to arbitrate these types of disputes before the Commissioner," the lawsuit said. Included with the 55-page lawsuit are 400 pages of exhibits, including about 200 pages of evidence that the NFL presented at the appeal hearing. The lawsuit notes that those documents represent a "sparse" sampling of the 18,000 documents totaling about 50,000 pages that the league said it compiled during its investigation. One exhibit is a sworn declaration from Duke Naipohn, a fatigue risk management specialist who was working closely with the Saints defense throughout the 2011 season. Naipohn said he attended most defensive meetings and never saw bounties placed on opposing players or saw Saints players rewarded for injuring opponents.

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All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

The Boston Celtics have what some might call an embarrassment of riches between a deep roster that made the Eastern Conference Finals, many draft picks - including this year's No. 1 - and money to spend in free agency. According to multiple reports, they plan to go big this offseason as they aim to reach the next level.

CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely reported on Friday that Boston wants to acquire another star in free agency or by trade. Here is what he wrote:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

That should add legs to the rumors they will pursue Gordon Hayward this summer. An All-Star small forward, Hayward will be one of the top free agents available and happened to play in college under Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

[RELATED: Lonzo Ball turned down Celtics, but will listen to... Sixers?]

Also set to hit the open market will be other frontcourt stars like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. But they could acquire one via trade with guys like Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony already having been linked to them in rumors over the past few months.

All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, for one, seems to want his Celtics to go the free agency route and he is ready to make a recruiting pitch. This is what he told ESPN:

"We need the best possible player that's gonna help us win, and I'm with that," Thomas said. "Anything Danny [Ainge] and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I'm all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more."

The Celtics are in an enviable spot with many ways to get better this offseason. And running the show is one of the best GMs in the business in Ainge. 

Acquiring stars is easier said than done, but the Celtics look like the team to watch this summer as they appear ready to get very aggressive in trying to improve. The Wizards will certainly be paying attention as they do their own work to get better.

[RELATED: Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs]

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Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday. Instead of gearing up for Game 1, however, the Washington Capitals are gearing up for the offseason. While fans in Washington will be watching in the hopes of seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins lose, Cap scouts will be watching to see if there is anyone they can add to their ranks next season to bolster the roster.

The Penguins are a team loaded with talent as evidenced by the fact that they are playing in the finals for the second straight year looking to be the first team to repeat as Cup champions since 1997-98. Like the Caps, they also have a handful of expiring contracts.

Is there anyone wearing the black and gold who could help the Caps next season? Josh Archibald, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Oskar Sundqvist are all restricted free agents meaning most if not all will be off limits to Washington, but there are still plenty of unrestricted free agents they could perhaps target this summer.

Nick Bonino

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 29
Last contract: 3 years for $5.7 million, $1.9 million cap hit
Season stats: 18 goals, 19 assists in 80 games

It was Pittsburgh’s HBK line (Carl Hagelin, Bonino, Phil Kessel) that really exposed Washington’s lack of bottom-six scoring depth. As Bonino was the guy centering that line and given the fact that scoring depth is still an issue for the Caps, you would think he would be an enticing piece for Washington to potentially add. If there is one position in which Washington appears set, however, it is center. Unless something unexpected happens with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s restricted free agency or someone is plucked in the expansion draft, the Caps will return Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle next season, all four of their centers from 2016-17. If they lose one, Bonino could be a potential target for a depth center, but otherwise he is not a great fit.

RELATED: Orlov in talks with KHL team, but it probably doesn't mean much

Matt Cullen

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 40
Last contract: 1 year for $1 million, $1 million cap hit
Season stats: 13 goals, 18 assists in 72 games

Cullen has been an incredibly productive fourth line player for Pittsburgh given his age, but the Caps need to get younger and faster. I have a hard time believing Cullen will not hang up the skates after this season, but even if he doesn’t he is not someone Washington should pursue.

Trevor Daley

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 33
Last contract: 6 years for $19.8 million, $3.3 million cap hit
Season stats: 5 goals, 14 assists in 56 games

The Capitals have four defensemen they will need to protect in the expansion draft in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, but if they take the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie – which they are expected to do given their offensive depth – they risk losing a significant blue liner and someone the team had penciled in for a top-four role next season. Bringing in a player like Daley in free agency could soften the blow. Daley has proven to be a key piece of the championship puzzle for the Penguins, but let’s not forget how much he struggled in Chicago ultimately prompting the trade to Pittsburgh. He is someone who needs the right fit to be productive. Given the success he has had in Pittsburgh, I have to imagine he will try to remain a Penguin. If he does become available, the question becomes how much will he cost? Washington may be in need of a top four defensemen, but they may not have much money to spend and, at 33 years old, it is fair to wonder just how long Daley can continue playing well enough to justify that big of a role. Age, price and fit are too many question marks for my taste.

Ron Hainsey

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 36
Last contract: 3 years for $8.5 million, $2.83 million cap hit
Season stats:4 goals, 13 assists in 72 games

In addition to Washington’s top two defensive pairs, the third pairing is also a question mark for next season. Are Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos ready to step into a full-time role? Will the Caps consider buying out the remainder of Brooks Orpik’s contract? Depending on the answers to these questions, Washington will need to find one, maybe two defensemen for their third pair. If the Caps want to plug a prospect onto the bottom pair, they would do well to pair him with a veteran presence to help show him the ropes and make up for inevitable rookie mistakes. Could Hainsey be that guy? The only way this move would make sense is if the team bought out Orpik and signed Hainsey as a cheaper alternative. The more likely scenario is that they keep Orpik and use him in that third-pair mentor role.

Chris Kunitz

Position: LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 38
Last contract: 3 years for $11.55 million, $3.85 million cap hit
Season stats: 9 goals, 20 assists in 71 games

Kunitz was the hero of the Eastern Conference Final as he scored twice in Game 7 including the overtime winner. Do you know the last time Kunitz scored before Thursday’s game? February. Sure, you could argue he has veteran leadership, but so does Justin Williams. Kunitz is older than Williams, far less productive and even had a bigger cap hit this season. If you like what Kunitz could potentially bring to Washington, then re-sign Williams.

Chad Ruhwedel

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 27
Last contract: 1 year for $575,000, $575,000 cap hit
Season stats: 2 goals, 8 assists in 34 games

With Taylor Chorney still under contract for next season, the Caps have no need for another No. 7.

Mark Streit

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 39
Last contract: 4 years for $21 million, $5.25 million cap hit
Season stats: 6 goals, 21 assists in 68 games

If the Caps are in need of a veteran defenseman to anchor their third pairing, Hainsey would be the better option from Pittsburgh over the 39-year-old Streit.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: Should the Caps re-sign Williams?