Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to suspend Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season and Will Smith for the first four games. The same goes for former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, who are now with other teams. The NFL Players Association had filed a grievance, saying the collective agreement reached last August does not give Goodell the power to discipline players for on-field actions.
The NFL Players Association immediately issued a release saying it will appeal Bubank’s decision. The union said it believes players are entitled to neutral arbitration and will continue to fight for that principle.
The union also filed a grievance with another arbitrator, who has yet to rule on the matter. All four players also have appealed their suspensions to Goodell. The commissioner has said he will not hear the appeals until all the grievances are resolved. Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.
The bottom line is that situation still has a long way to go before being fully done. As long as the appeals are active, the players don’t have to begin their suspensions. Smith previously was involved in the StarCaps situation and that dragged on for several years before he finally had to serve a two-game suspension last year. If the appeals aren’t finalized by the start of the season, it’s possible Vilma and Smith could begin the season with the Saints. They have continued to work out at the team facility throughout the offseason.