NFL sends message to Saints

I don’t know if it’s posturing, a preview of things to come in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty drama, or something else. But I think the latest development is significant.

The National Football League put out a strongly worded statement Thursday morning. The league emphasized that an appeals panel did not overturn the player suspensions issued by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Instead, the league says, the panel has asked Goodell to clarify his prior ruling.

Goodell is scheduled to meet with the four players involved next week. I think the statement is a pretty good indicator that Goodell isn’t prepared to back down. My guess is he issues the same punishments he did before, but just makes it clear that he’s doing it based on "conduct detrimental to the game."

Here’s the league’s statement in its entirety:

In light of some confusion surrounding the ruling of the CBA Appeals Panel, it is important to understand what the panel did and did not rule. The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority.

The panel's decision asks no more than that the commissioner clarify his earlier rulings to ensure -- and to clearly state -- that no part of the prior ruling was attributable to matters within Professor Burbank's authority (salary cap violations). It does not require the commissioner to take additional evidence or to "reweigh" the evidence currently in the record. The panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation, did not exonerate anyone involved, and did not say that the commissioner “overstepped his authority.”

The panel made clear that the commissioner had full authority to impose discipline on the players so long as the discipline was attributable to conduct detrimental to the league, rather than "undisclosed compensation." The panel asked only that he clarify that he was not relying on the "undisclosed" nature of the financial incentives in imposing the discipline. In the meantime, the panel put the suspensions on hold.