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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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Jay Beagle sees method to the madness of NHL's faceoff emphasis

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Beagle sees method to the madness of NHL's faceoff emphasis

Monday’s preseason opener was a tough game to watch. With two teams opening their preseason slate, some sloppy hockey was expected. What was not expected, however, was the 20 minor penalties doled out on the night.

Along with slashing, faceoffs is a point of emphasis for the NHL this season. Referees and linesmen will be much stricter when enforcing faceoff rules, specifically where a player positions his stick and skate while taking a faceoff.

That emphasis was on full display in New Jersey as three faceoff violation penalties were issued, one within the game’s first minute.

“Just from what guys had said that played in the game and everything just obviously messing up with the flow and just having all those penalties, it sounded kind of crazy,” Capitals center Jay Beagle told reporters on Tuesday. “It's something to be seen, I guess. I hope they're just trying it out in preseason.”

RELATED: YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THE CAPS' PROMOTIONAL GIVEAWAYS FOR THE SEASON

Beagle stands to be the most affected by the faceoff crackdown as the team's top faceoff man. He led the team last season with a faceoff win percentage of 56.4-percent, tied for the 12th best in the NHL among players who took 100 faceoffs or more. He was the only center on the team with a positive faceoff percentage in the defensive zone (56.8-percent) and shorthanded (55.7-percent).

Like everyone, Beagle was not a fan of how the referees enforced the faceoff rules on Monday.

“It's a tough rule to enforce because to make it like it was [Monday] with a bunch of penalties and just the first period with no flow, I don't know if you guys enjoyed watching it, but most people did not like it,” he said. “I don't think that's good for the game.”

But that doesn't mean Beagle doesn't agree with it. Whle Monday's game was ugly, to say the least, he does understand where the NHL is coming from and even wondered if stricter enforcement could perhaps be a good thing.

“Little tweaks here and there to the rule that they’re trying to imply, I think it would work,” Beagle said.

By rule, for a faceoff in the defensive zone, the defensive forward must put his stick down first. Technically the offensive player is then supposed to put his stick down before the faceoff, but in practice linesmen frequently will drop the puck once the defensive forward's stick is down. This gives the offensive player an advantage as he is more easily able to get his stick under for the win.

“Say in the D-zone my stick has to come down first and an offensive guy has to bring his stick down first and they pause for a second and then drop the puck,” Beagle said, “It's more even than me putting my stick down first, an offensive guy flying into the dot and snapping it back on me. It might make it more even.”

So there may be a method to the NHL’s madness even if all we saw on Monday was the madness. Both the players and referees will have to adjust throughout the preseason in order to ensure a much cleaner look at the faceoff dot in the regular season.

“It's going to be something that you have to work on quite a bit,” Beagle said. “It'll take a lot adjustment for everyone."

MORE CAPITALS: LET'S TRY THIS: OVECHKIN AND KUZNETSOV TO START THE SEASON ON THE SAME LINE

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Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Kirk Cousins played better in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, but the quarterback still didn't play as well as he's proved capable in previous seasons. He finished the 27-20 win over the Rams by going 18 of 27 for 179 yards with a touchdown. Important for Cousins, after three turnovers in a Week 1 loss, he did not fumble or throw an interception in Los Angeles. 

RELATED: WEEK 2 NFL POWER RANKINGS

Digging deeper into the numbers, one trend has emerged: Cousins and the Redskins are not having much luck in the downfield passing game. Stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

  • This season, Cousins has not completed a pass longer than 20 yards in the air. Against the Eagles in Week 1, Cousins missed on five deep attempts. Against the Rams, Cousins didn't have a deep attempt. 
  • Not surprisingly, Cousins does much better when he's not under pressure. On the season, the Redskins passer is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes without pressure, and that number drops to just below 43 percent under pressure. 
  • Cousins took four sacks against the Eagles, but that number dropped in half against the Rams.
  • Against the Rams, Cousins found his greatest success throwing to his left. On attempts to his left side, he completed all five attempts. Throwing over the middle or to the right, he threw 19 passes and completed 13. Week 1 Cousins also found his best success throwing to his left. 

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