Appeals likely to extend past season

The New Orleans Saints' odds of digging out of an 0-4 hole were deep but the odds of trying to accomplish the task with linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith available the remainder of the season are significantly increasing.

While former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has established the appeals hearing date as Nov. 20 for those players suspended by Roger Goodell in the Saints' alleged bounty program, that hearing is only the first of many procedural dates in a due process forum that is now expected to go beyond the NFL's regular season, according to sources familiar with the pre-hearing talks.

Tagliabue, last week, denied a motion to recuse himself as the arbitrator for the appeals hearing of those current and former Saints players who were disciplined in the bounty program as defined by Goodell.

Tagliabue informed the players' attorneys of his decision, stating he will move forward with establishing a date for the hearing and also formalizing the process on which the appeal will be heard. In deciding to hear the case, Tagliabue dismissed the argument of partiality players had made in their motion, citing that he is not only the former commissioner but also is a member of the law firm that represents Goodell in legal matters before a New Orleans federal court.

The players have asked the court to recuse Tagliabue as the appeals arbitrator but there has been no ruling on that motion.

As the two sides discuss the forthcoming appeals process, the players remain adamant that Taglaibue makes available witnesses such as former Saints assistants Gregg Williams and Mike Cerullo, who provided declarations the NFL used as evidence to discipline the players.