Lawyer: Vilma return 'a long shot, but maybe less of one'

New Orleans Saints LB Jonathan Vilma didn't get the temporary restraining order he sought when he was in court last month. But he might get it Friday.

Lawyers for Vilma and the NFL return to federal court tomorrow to argue over Vilma's one-year suspension for his participation in an alleged bounty system that paid Saints players for knocking opponents out of a game.

The NFL says: The lawsuits should be dismissed because these matters are covered by the collective bargaining agreement, and the courts don't have the authority to interfere with Commissioner Roger Goodell's decisions. If a federal judge can rule on cases like this, then the commissioner isn't the final arbiter on what's best for the league.

The players say: They haven't received what they bargained for -- due process. They're not entitled to Constitutional due process, but they are entitled to some due process -- an appeal hearing, for instance, which Goodell has not granted. They say Goodell has been biased, has prejudged the case and is overreaching.

"The players deny there was a bounty system, but say that if there was, it's a pay-for-play system that violates the salary cap and should go to arbitration," Tulane Sports Law Program Director Gabe Feldman said. "And if it's an on-field disciplinary matter, it should go to the NFL officials that decide those cases, not Goodell.

"Bottom line, they say the commissioner didn't do it the proper way, and besides, he didn't have the power to do it anyway."

Feldman said it's hard to predict what will happen Friday, but based on the Judge Ginger Berrigan's questions at the last hearing, "the players had to feel better leaving the hearing than they did going in."

He added: "The judge had serious questions about the process and whether the commissioner had the authority to rule. It's still a long shot, but maybe less of one."

Although the NFL has stood its ground (denying reports this week of a settlement offer to Vilma), is the league sweating the prospect of Goodell being skillfully deposed and airing the NFL's dirty laundry?

"Not yet," Feldman said. "If the NFL loses, it'll appeal. If it loses again and discovery begins, that's when they'll likely look to settle."

Some believe a victory by Vilma could open the floodgates to lawsuits on virtually every ruling against a player by Goodell, but Feldman doubts that.

"Lawyers are expensive," he said. "Is a player going to challenge a one-game suspension? He'll spend more in legal fees than the one-game check.

"A victory might embolden the players, but it would only persuade them to go to court in outlier cases, like this one -- cases with a lot at stake."

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