League’s offer to Vilma may implicitly concede Tagliabue’s conflict of interest

On Sunday morning, details were incomplete regarding the offer made by the NFL to settle the bounty suspensions short of a decision from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The story from ESPN has since been updated to reflect the terms offered to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.  According to Ed Werder of ESPN, the league offered to let Tagliabue determine Vilma’s suspension, in exchange for Vilma dropping his defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The offer was promptly rejected, as it should have been.  Tagliabue already will be determining Vilma’s suspension even without the dismissal of his defamation lawsuit.  So what’s the point of even making the offer?

Arguably, the league’s offer implicitly concedes that Tagliabue currently has a conflict of interest.  If Tagliabue exonerates Vilma, the defamation lawsuit would get stronger.  Which would mean that a member of the law firm that represents the NFL will have made a decision that creates potential civil liability for the man who runs the NFL.  Which would result in liability for the NFL, which surely is picking up the tag for any judgment entered against Goodell.

By clearing away the defamation lawsuit, Tagliabue would be free to conclude that Goodell got it wrong, without the unpleasant reality of putting Goodell and the league in the cross hairs of a significant monetary judgment.

The offer also overlooks the potential argument that, no matter what Tagliabue decides, Vilma’s punishment can’t extend beyond the 2012 season, given the plain terms of his second suspension letter.  Agreeing to let Tagliabue set the punishment would potentially amount to agreeing to let Tagliabue extend a suspension into 2013.

Regardless, the offer was rejected and a decision from Tagliabue is expected tomorrow.  And then the ensuing litigation may extend into 2013.

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