Jonathan Vilma

proCane Pro Day Recap

NFLU2009
In front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, the unquestioned star was receiver Phillip Dorsett. He blazed his way to an unofficial 4.25-second 40-yard dash after running an already-excellent 4.33 at the NFL combine in February. He could have settled on that time and simply performed pass-catching drills for NFL scouts, but Dorsett wanted to put on a show.

“It was just me and my competitive spirit just coming out here and doing everything,” Dorsett said. “Because I know everybody wants to see it. Everybody likes to see a guy go out and compete and do everything.”

Dorsett, who measured in at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, said he improved his vertical to 38 inches (he leaped 37 at the combine) and bench-pressed 225 pounds 13 times (he did not lift at the combine).

For me, the star of the day was Phillip Dorsett,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “A kid who didn’t have to do anything because he performed so well at the combine. What did he do today? Comes out runs a 4.25, 4.26, jumps 38 inches, 10-9 broad [jump], and then looked fantastic catching the football and getting in and out of breaks. I thought Phillip Dorsett had an outstanding day.”

Dorsett will work out for the Dolphins, Panthers and Falcons. What if the hometown chose him?

“Being a Hurricane and I always was a fan of the Dolphins, too,” said Dorsett, from Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas. “It would be great. It would be a dream come true,” he said.

* Linebacker Denzel Perryman suffered a pulled right hamstring and scratched on his second attempt at running the 40-yard dash. UM did not release official testing results to the media, but according to a group of scouts that got together and compared times, Perryman’s first heat in the 40 was a 4.67 — better than the 4.78 he ran in Indianapolis.

He did not perform in the shuttle, 3-cone and positional drills. He said not being able to finish was “real disappointing, but I think a lot of teams just wanted to see what I could run. I feel I accomplished that today. I answered a lot of questions.”

He said he measured in at 5-11 and 239 pounds and put up 30 reps of 225 pounds. He increased his vertical from 32 (combine) to 33 inches.

Perryman watched film with the Lions hours before pro day began and has three NFL team visits lined up: he will meet with the Dolphins next Thursday, the Falcons on April 12 and the Panthers on April 16. Along with Clive Walford and Dorsett, he ate dinner with Saints brass Tuesday night at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Coral Gables. Perryman said he ate shrimp and scallops (Rob Ryan had a steak, if you were wondering).

* Running back Duke Johnson ran a 4.47 twice, which was a much better result than his combine time (4.54). He also “caught the ball naturally,” according to Mayock.

Why run the 40 again? “I wanted to do it for myself, because I know I can do better, and I know I train too hard to run what I ran at the combine,” he said, adding that his “game speed speaks for itself. … If you run 4.2, 4.3 but you don’t play it, it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey agreed.

“When we watch guys play with helmets and shoulder pads, those are the important things,” he said. “Those guys that play fast and also run fast, that’s great. The importance is the speed they play at.” The 40 time is “a measurement — you always judge it against how they play.”

Johnson, who measured in at 5-9 and 203 pounds, said he did 18 reps of 225. He did not lift at the NFL combine.

Tight end Clive Walford did not run because he suffered a hamstring pull last week. Walford (6-4, 250) said he would meet with the Steelers after pro day and the Falcons and Packers in the coming days. He said he has talked to a laundry list of teams, including the Dolphins, Saints, Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Chargers, 49ers, Ravens, Chiefs and Buccaneers.

Walford, a Glades Central grad and South Bay native, on the hometown team: “I talked to them. I wouldn’t say a lot, but I saw that move that they made this offseason. Shout-out to the Dolphins.” He’s talking, of course, about the Fins adding Ndamukong Suh.

Is UM’s tight end tradition helping his draft stock? “We produce great tight ends,” he said. “Look at the history. We’ve got great ones to come. I feel I kept up that legacy. Hopefully the young ones do as well.

* Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, a projected first-rounder, did not perform lifting drills – he was the top overall bench-presser at the NFL combine, with 37 reps of 225 – but did everything else. Flowers did not speak to the media (he rarely does).

Mayock was very high on Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott‘s performances.

“I counted eight to 10 offensive line coaches, obviously here to see mostly Ereck Flowers, who I think is going to be a first-round draft pick,” he said. “But Feliciano could get drafted. Shane McDermott could get drafted. I thought it was a great day for that whole group of players.”

* Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who looked even lighter than he did at the combine (when he measured 6-3, 267), looked like a much more explosive player than he was as a 280-pound strong-side defensive end at UM. “Very twitchy” was Walford’s assessment. “Quick. Fast.”

* Quarterbacks Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps threw a variety of routes for scouts. Williams said he checked in at 6-4 and change and 215 pounds, and ran a 4.84 in the 40. Before tearing his ACL last April 4 – 362 days ago – he said he ran in the 5-second range. He definitely looked a lot faster than before. He has several meetings scheduled, but has not worked out with an NFL team.

“I’m always positive,” Williams said. “Regardless if I get drafted or not I’m still going to get a chance somewhere so I’m not really worried about the draft.”

* Cornerback Ladarius Gunter ran a solid 4.56 time in the 40 and looked very rangy in coverage drills.  He’s projected as a mid-round pick.

* Linebacker Thurston Armbrister showed good speed and agility, though he struggled to catch interceptions in drills. Would bet he gets a shot somewhere.

* Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre ran a 5.15 in the 40.

* If you saw my Twitter feed, you’ll get a roll of NFL personnel I spotted, but among the notables were a large contingent of Dolphins personnel (GM Dennis Hickey, VP Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi), Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. NFL Network said seven GMs attended, including Hickey. The others: Mickey Loomis (Saints), Mike Maccagnan (Jets), Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Doug Whaley (Bills), Steve Keim (Arizona), Ruston Webster (Tennessee) and Floyd Reese (Giants). Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, now a college scout with New Orleans, was also there.

* Former Hurricanes who attended included Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Demarcus Van Dyke, Jacory Harris, Lamar Miller and Tommy Streeter. A slew of players from the 2012 and 2013 teams were there. Jonathan Vilma was also in attendance, working for NBC Sports along with former Dolphins great Jason Taylor. NFL Network had a five-person crew and analyst Mike Mayock interviewed several UM players and coach Al Golden, who did not speak to other media.

* Former Hurricanes running back Damien Berry, a Glades Central grad who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2012, was the oldest of several pre-2014 Hurricanes who worked out (linebacker Tyrone Cornelius and defensive end Shayon Green, both from the 2013 team, also performed).  “I’m still young, 26 years old. I think it’s time to give it another shot,” said Berry, who last played for UM in 2010 and now lives in Boca Raton. Berry, 5-11 and 230 pounds, he said he ran a 4.7 in the 40.


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(palmbeachpost.com)
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Vilma, Taylor headline latest University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame class

JonVilmaCanes
Ten former Hurricanes will be inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2015, the school announced Monday.

Six -- Rusty Medearis (1990-92, '94), Winston Moss (1983-86), Kevin Patrick (1990-93), Sean Taylor (2001-03), Jonathan Vilma (2000-03) and Rob Chudzinsk (1986-90) -- played for the football program. Chudzinski also coached from 1996-03.

Medearis was a Freshman All-American in 1990 and a defensive lineman for the 1991 national title team. He recorded 22 sacks in his first two seasons before sustaining an injury in 1992 that kept him out until 1994.

Moss, currently the associate head coach of the Green Bay Packers, was on the 1983 national championship squad. Prior to a 10-year NFL career, he finished fourth in total tackles and second in solo tackles and tackles for a loss in 1986 despite missing two games.

A First-Team All-American in 1993, Patrick was also named Big East Defensive Player of the Year as a lineman. In his career, he recorded 23 sacks -- fifth in program history. Patrick serves as the defensive line coach at the University of North Texas.

Taylor was a consensus First-Team All-American and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 as well as a finalist for the Thorpe Award given to the nation's top safety. Taylor, who will be honored posthumously, ranks second in career picks returned for a score (three), second in return yards (306) and fifth in total interceptions (14). He was on the 2001 national championship team.

Vilma, an All-American in 2003, manned the middle linebacker position for two straight national title games. He led the Hurricanes in total tackles from 2001-03. His 377 tackles rank seventh in program history. Vilma, a three-time Pro Bowler, was a two-time Academic All-American and three-time All-Big East Academic Team in college.

Chudzinski began as the tight ends coach in 1996 and worked his way up to offensive coordinator by 2001. He developed All-American tight ends Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. His schemes set UM records for most points (527), total yards (6,074) and rushing touchdowns (33) during the 2001 campaign. As a player, he won a pair of titles in 1987 and 1989.

Other athletes in the Class of 2015 include Lauryn Williams, who has medaled in both the winter and summer Olympics. Pitcher Alex Fernandez, a member of the Florida Marlins' 1997 World Series team, was an All-American as a freshman. Women's basketball player Kym Hope still ranks in the top 10 for career scoring, free-throw percentage, field-goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Diver Chris Mantilla, an 11-time All-American, captured the 3-meter title at the 1996 NCAA Championships.

This year's class will be introduced at halftime of Saturday's Cincinnati-Miami football game. Inductees will be honored at the 47th Annual Induction Banquet in April 2015.

"This is an impressive class that reflects the highest level of athletic talent representative of The U," K.C. Jones, president of the UMSHoF and member of the 2008 class, said in a statement. "We look forward to introducing the class at the upcoming Cincinnati game and hosting our induction ceremony at the banquet in the spring."


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(foxpsports.com)
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Jon Vilma Would Have Loved To Have Been Called By Dolphins

JonVilma
Ex-Hurricane Jonathan Vilma, 32, would have loved a call from the Dolphins amid their linebacker injuries last week, but Miami wasn’t interested.

But the Dolphins have four Hurricanes under contract (tied with UF for the most on the team), including practice squad receiver Tommy Streeter.




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(miamiherald.com)
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Jonathan Vilma rips Roger Goodell over handling of Ray Rice case

JonVilma
This isn't exactly shocking information, but former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is not happy with the way Roger Goodell has handled the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Goodell, you'll recall, originally suspended Vilma, for the 2012 season for his role in "Bountygate." After a judge overturned that suspension, Goodell tried to suspend Vilma and other Saints once again. The group appealed the decision, which led to Goodell asking former commissioner Paul Tagliabue to review the NFL's bounty investigation. Tagliabue did and he overturned the second round of suspensions. Vilma ended up playing in 11 games that season.

However, the bad blood with Goodell is still there.

After the commissioner's interview with CBS News aired Wednesday morning, Vilma was not buying Goodell's assertion that he asked for, but was not given, the disturbing video of Rice punching his now-wife in the casino elevator.











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(foxsports.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Rips Former Bucs O-Line

JonVilma
Former Saints Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma (2008-2013) looked into a national TV camera the other day and stomped on the reputations of Donald Penn, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah, Demar Dotson and other former Bucs offensive linemen.

Listening to Vilma, it’s a wonder Tampa Bay won any football games.

Speaking on  NBC Sports Network, Vilma was asked about facing the old Bucs offensive line versus the current bunch.

“You know, they were definitely at the bottom of the pack as far as O-lines that we faced. We looked at them, we said, ‘Athletically, they weren’t there. They’re communication wasn’t there. The leadership wasn’t there,’” Vilma said.

“We would do simple stunts, move a defensive linemen, cross games, they didn’t ‘have an answer to it. So finally you get a guy like [Logan] Mankins with the ability, with the knowledge, with the veteran leadership he should bring, and they should shore up some of those issues.”

Man, talk about kicking a unit in the balls. Vilma laid some low blows there.


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(joebucsfan.com)
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Jonathan Vilma on Swearinger Hit: 'The Hit Was Perfectly Clean, Perfectly Legal'

JonVilmaCanes
Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger's concussion-inducing hit on Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has become a controversial topic.

Was Swearinger's hit illegal? Did Peyton Manning make a mistake by giving him an earful? How hard is it for a defensive player to adjust to the NFL's tackling rules?



Watch as Adam Lefkoe goes in-depth with Jonathan Vilma and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms in the video above. 


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(bleacherreport.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Would Welcome Richie Incognito in Locker Room 'With Open Arms'

JonVilma
Richie Incognito has been cleared by the NFL, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com, and visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.

Would Incognito be welcomed back into an NFL locker room? 



Watch as Adam Lefkoe goes in-depth with free-agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms in the video above.


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(bleacherreport.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Works Out For Falcons, Doesn't Sign

JonVilma
When linebacker Sean Weatherspoon went down recently while working out with the Atlanta Falcons, the team was left with a huge problem on their hands. Not only did they lose a key part of their defense, but they lost him so close to the season beginning.

Therefore, they had to look outside of the organization for a potential replacement, and on Wednesday, they brought in former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a workout.

Some thought that the not long after the workout, the Falcons might have their man in Vilma, and a contract would be immediately signed.

According to Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo, however, that won’t be the case as he won’t be inking a deal with the team at the moment. But, that doesn’t rule out a potential signing right before the season gets underway.




Given the amount of experience that Vilma has under his belt, this really isn’t all that big of a deal. The team still has ample time over the summer to explore the options for Weatherspoon, and then at that point they could see if investing in Vilma for the year would be a smart idea.

Plus, considering the fact that Vilma himself spent a good portion of last season on the injured reserve, it would be a risky investment to begin with.


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(fansided.com)
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Atlanta Falcons Interested In Jon Vilma?

JonVilma
The Atlanta Falcons are looking to replace the hole created when they lost Sean Weatherspoon earlier in the week, and they may be looking to bring in one of the biggest names on the free agency market. Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma may be getting a good, hard look from the Falcons brass, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and NFL Network.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday on NFL Total Access that the Falcons are taking a hard look at former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma as a potential replacement for Weatherspoon, via sources close to the Falcons situation.

Vilma, 32, remains a free agent after the Saints opted not to re-sign the 10-year veteran following a successful and, at times, controversial six-year stay in NOLA. If Vilma’s primary medicals check out, the Falcons plan to bring the three-time Pro Bowler in for a visit.

Vilma was a solid player, if not for the headlines he created in New Orleans. Most notably, Vilma was considered one of the central figures in the bounty scandal that led to his suspension (which was appealed and overturned).

Paired with a knee surgery that kept him out of the majority of the 2013 season, Vilma was ultimately cut by the Saints in February. Since being released he’s been linked to multiple places, but the Falcons seem intent on giving Vilma at least a chance.

The Hawks are also looking at Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow as internal options as well.


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(fansided.com)
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Cowboys Considering Brian Urlacher, Jonathan Vilma To Replace Sean Lee

JonVilmaCanes
The injury to middle linebacker Sean Lee has left a gaping hole in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys defense, and the team is considering all of its options to find a replacement.

Two names that have surfaced in the team’s attempt to find a replacement include Brian Urlacher and Jonathan Vilma, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported.

Cowboys evaluating all options for replacing LB Sean Lee, including vets like Brian Urlacher and Jon Vilma. Will likely be 2-player platoon
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) June 2, 2014

Urlacher, 36, spent last year in the broadcast booth instead of on the football field. At this time last year, Urlacher retired from the NFL after 13 seasons manning the middle of the Chicago Bears’ defense.

It’s unknown whether Urlacher has an interest in returning to football and leaving his comfortable seat with FOX, or if he’s in game shape. One positive about Urlacher is that he’s seasoned in defensive coordinator’s Rod Marinelli’s scheme.

Vilma, 32, missed the 2013 season due to a lingering knee injury. The New Orleans Saints let the veteran backer walk in  free agency, but last week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Vilma is now “healthy and ready” to return to action.

If Dallas is in market for a LB, one who is recovered from knee issues is former Saint Jonathan Vilma. Now said to be healthy and ready.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 27, 2014

Vilma reached out to the Miami Dolphins, his hometown team, but they showed no interest, according to the Miami Herald. The Dolphins also passed on two other former Hurricanes – Jon Beason and Darryl Sharpton – in free agency over the offseason. Vilma has received little to no interest on the open market.

When Lee tore his ACL during Cowboys OTAs last week, it was presumed Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa, would have the first crack at earning the starting job. But Werder is suggesting the team wants a two-player platoon at middle linebacker.

Based on age, it seems like Vilma is the more probable fit. He’s younger and has shown an interest in playing this season.


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(xnsports.com)
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Dolphins pass on Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
The representation for free agent LB Jonathan Vilma recently reached out to the Dolphins, but the team "showed no interest."

Vilma is 32 now, and hasn't been an effective player in several seasons. The Fins were smart to pass. Vilma's left knee has been problematic since 2011, and ended his 2013 campaign after just one appearance with the Saints.


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(rotoworld.com)
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Cowboys might be intersted in Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
The Dallas Cowboys are looking at another tough start to this upcoming season as they may be without star linebacker Sean Lee for even more time following his latest injury at Cowboys OTAs. Lee may be lost for the season and if not the season, a large portion of it with a knee injury and the Cowboys are bracing for the worst.

Adam Schefter doesn’t have an update on Lee’s status just yet but he does have some input on who they might target should Lee be lost as is expected. According to Schefter, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is healthy and ready to play, which means he could be an option for the Cowboys in the immediate future.




Of course, this is all assuming that the Cowboys lose Lee which is an absolute worst case scenario for them. Vilma isn’t a bad pick up though and may have even been an alright veteran signing even if Lee hadn’t suffered this knee injury.

Vilma was a leader with the Saints and knows what a defense needs to get fired up. He may have lost a step with age, but he’ll likely be walking more steps on two legs than Sean Lee will this season which by default makes him a better option. It’s just a perk that he happens to be one of the better defensive veterans floating around in free agency still.


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Free-agent spotlight: LB Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
The New Orleans Saints have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, plus the three players they released last month. Here’s a breakdown on linebacker Jonathan Vilma:

Position: ILB
Age: 31
Height: 6-1
Weight: 230

Scouting report: In his prime, Vilma was one of the top defensive players in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl invites in 2005, 2009 and 2010. But he has been plagued by a nagging knee injury for the last three years and appeared in only one game last season. The Saints announced last month that they plan to part ways with him when he becomes a free agent.

A former first-round draft pick and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, Vilma arrived in New Orleans via trade in 2008. He immediately took over as the "quarterback" of the Saints' defense as a captain and signal caller at middle linebacker. Coaches have always raved about what a smart player Vilma is -- which was especially on display when he matched audibles with Peyton Manning in the Saints' 2010 Super Bowl victory.

Vilma is a bit on the small side for an inside linebacker, but he always made up for it with great athleticism and instincts when healthy. He had eight sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles during six years in New Orleans. For his career, he has 871 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 12 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles.

Projection: Vilma has said he would like to keep playing, and he has had ample time to recover from his latest clean-up surgery last summer. But the combination of his age and his injury history puts his future in jeopardy.

I don't see him as an every-down starter at this stage. But I could see a team bringing Vilma in to vie for a rotational role. His experience and leadership will boost his appeal.

Obviously Vilma was a central figure in the Saints' infamous bounty scandal -- originally being suspended for a year before the suspension was vacated on appeal. But I don’t think that would turn teams off. On the contrary, I think his character would be considered a plus, based on how coaches have always raved about Vilma.


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(espn.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Released

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - The New Orleans Saints announced Wednesday that the team has terminated the contracts of Jabari Greer (CB), Roman Harper (S) and Will Smith (DE/OLB) and that they will not re-sign Jonathan Vilma (LB).

"I have coached and been around a lot of great players and I put these four guys right there at the top," said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. "Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan all represent and epitomize what we look for in our players. These are disciplined, smart, tough and team-oriented individuals. They all played an important role in helping this team and this city win its first Super Bowl and they have all enjoyed multiple playoff appearances and wins."

The Saints are estimated to be in the range of $12-15 million over the cap and will need more space to re-sign or use the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham.

"These were not easy decisions to make," said Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis. "Since we acquired them, Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan have all been excellent players on the field for us. Each of them were integral parts in turning this program around and winning a Super Bowl. They were a great example to our players as team leaders in the locker room as well. Will and Roman were two of the better draft picks we have made. Jonathan Vilma has been one of our best trades ever and Jabari Greer has been one of our best free agent signings. These are the kinds of players and people you hope to acquire. However, a new NFL year is about to begin and, with the start of free agency in March, these difficult moves allow us to position our team under the salary cap to move forward for 2014."

The Saints drafted Smith out of Ohio State in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He ended his Saints career with 363 tackles (255 solo), 67.5 sacks, two interceptions, 24 passes defensed, 19 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Smith would have earned $11.55 million in the final year of his contract.
Harper was drafted by the Saints in 2006 out of Alabama. With New Orleans he made 743 tackles, had 17 sacks, seven interceptions and 13 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Harper would have earned $3.15 million this season.

Greer was signed by the Saints in 2009 after playing with Buffalo for five season. Greer had nine interceptions (two for touchdowns), 290 tackles, 68 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. In 2013, Greer's season ended after suffering a knee injury vs. San Francisco on November 17.

Vilma was acquired by the Saints in a trade in the 2008 with the New York Jets. With the Saints Vilma recorded 530 tackles (331 solo), eight sacks, six interceptions, 27 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

"I would like to thank Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan for their contributions on and off the field for the New Orleans Saints over the past several years," said Saints owner Tom Benson. "All four of them played important roles in the success of our club and were great players and teammates. In addition, all of them made a significant impact in our community, especially with our youth and helping serve the less fortunate. On behalf of our organization and our fans, we appreciate everything that they have done for us and wish them continued success."


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(wafb.com)
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'Highly likely' Saints let ILB Jon Vilma walk

JonVilma
Profootballtalk reports it's "highly likely" the Saints let ILB Jonathan Vilma walk in free agency.

Suspension and injury have limited Vilma to just 12 total games over the past two seasons. Two months shy of his 32nd birthday, Vilma has been playing through knee issues since 2011. He made only one appearance in 2013 before landing on injured reserve. Even if he can prove he's healthy, Vilma will have trouble tracking down guaranteed money on the open market. He won't be a starter in 2014.


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(rotoworld.com)
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Jonathan Vilma apologizes for recent remarks about openly gay players

JonVilma
Two weeks ago, in the run-up to Super Bowl North Jersey, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma—who spent four seasons with the Jets after they took him with the 12th pick of the 2004 draft—told the NFL Network he didn't think an openly gay NFL player would be accepted in the locker room.

Monday, just one day after Missouri defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly gay draft prospect, Vilma walked it all back in an interview with CNN.
Here's what Vilma initially told the NFL Network's Andrea Kremer, per NOLA.com:

"I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me.

"How am I supposed to respond?"

But Monday night on CNN's AC360, Vilma clarified what he was trying to say. More from NOLA.com:

"It was a poor illustration of the example I was trying to give on the context, so I do apologize for that I was trying to explain that whenever you have change into something that's been set in stone for so long, something that's been going for so long, that change always comes with a little resistance.
[...]

"Some people grew up with or without the acceptance of gays within their families. You have a lot of different elements within the locker room that you just don't see right now. Me being on the inside for 10 years, inside the locker room, I've been around that.

"And it's not to say that the locker rooms are bad, it's to say that there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms, and then unfortunately, there will be some, I'm about 99 percent sure the minority, will say, well, they're not comfortable with that yet, they don't know how to respond to that. That's just what's going to happen in the first whatever, the first year, two years. When have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay, the transition will be a lot smoother."

As NOLA.com also noted, Vilma had once tweeted in 2011 that "[g]rown men should NOT hav female tendencies. Period." He later crafted a half-hearted explanation to say he wasn't talking about gay men.

Vilma's clarification on AC360 was far more thoughtful.

He went on to say cite his hypothetical shower scenario as something he's never experienced before, only to add this about showering with an openly gay teammate: "I don't see anything wrong with it. You have other players that may, you have other players that may not." Vilma also said he would be "A-OK with" having a gay teammate, noting that "it doesn't bother me at all."


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(nj.com)
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Jonathan Vilma says he would be 'A-OK' with an openly gay teammate

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma ignited some controversy for his remarks to the NFL Network two weeks ago when he told Andrea Kremer he didn't think an openly gay teammate would be accepted in the locker room.

The topic came back up this week after NFL draft prospect Michael Sam's admission that he was gay. He is the first prospective player in NFL history to publicly come out and also the first in the other three major U.S. men's sports, baseball, basketball and hockey.

Sam, a former Missouri defensive lineman and the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the year, told multiple news outlets Sunday he is an "openly proud gay man."

Vilma, who made the comments before Sam's announcement, told the NFL Network:

"I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma told NFL Network. "I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me.

"How am I supposed to respond?"

Sam's admission has raised the question again as to whether the NFL is ready for its first openly gay player. Vilma went on "AC360" on Monday night to talk about the issue and clarify his initial comments, admitting that they were poorly worded.

"It was a poor illustration of the example I was trying to give on the context, so I do apologize for that," Vilma said. "I was trying to explain that whenever you have change into something that's been set in stone for so long, something that's been going for so long, that change always comes with a little resistance."

Vilma said the "resistance" comes with the dynamics of having 53 different men in the locker room, many who come from different backgrounds. 

"You have people that can be more outgoing, more open-minded. You have people that are a little more close-minded," Vilma said. "Some people grew up with or without the acceptance of gays within their families. You have a lot of different elements within the locker room that you just don't see right now. Me being on the inside for 10 years, inside the locker room, I've been around that.

"And it's not to say that the locker rooms are bad, it's to say that there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms, and then unfortunately, there will be some, I'm about 99 percent sure the minority, will say, well, they're not comfortable with that yet, they don't know how to respond to that. That's just what's going to happen in the first whatever, the first year, two years. When have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay, the transition will be a lot smoother."

Vilma clarified his comment about showering with an openly gay teammate and said he didn't have any concerns about it. He said his comment to the NFL Network was another poor example he was trying to make.

"Again, the point I was trying to make or the context I was trying to take it in is that I've never been put in that situation, no player in the NFL has been put in that situation, so it's not as simple as anyone saying, well, there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with it. You have other players that may, you have other players that may not. 

"I don't know and the players don't know because it's the first time that you have a Michael Sam, who will by all accounts be drafted, openly gay, come into a locker room. No one in the NFL in the past however many years has experienced this before so this is all new for everybody, this is new territory."

Vilma has experienced heavy criticism for other comments, including tweets he made during the 2011 season. At the time, he said on Twitter that "Grown men should NOT hav female tendencies. Period."

A woman responded to Vilma on Twitter with, "that's a little sexist/homophobic, don't you think? #thinkbeforeyoutweet."

He responded: "hey....SHUTUP."

Vilma later tweeted, "So of course the homosexual men get sensitive to my tweet and respond all ticked off. RELAX I was not referring to u guys."

Vilma had changed his tune by Monday night.

"As long as he can play football, I'm A-OK with it," he said Monday. "It doesn't bother me at all."

What would Vilma, a former defensive captain who will become a free agent March 11, say to his teammates if Sam was drafted by the Saints?

"There's really nothing to say," he said. "The first thing that matters is, can he play football?"


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Jonathan Vilma is afraid a gay teammate will look at him

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against demonstrated what a close-minded jerk he is in an interview with Andrea Kramer for NFL Network on the locker room that aired Super Bowl Sunday. When asked about having a gay teammate, he said he doesn't want one:

"I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don't want people to just naturally assume, oh, we're all homophobic. That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?"

Ummmm -- how about you respond the same way you respond when any man glances at you in the shower? You just keep shootin' the shit. He doesn't give a crap about your manhood, especially when it's attached to someone with asshole tendencies.

Or how about you make a joke of it:
• "No, you can't have none of this."
• "I'm so telling your boyfriend you stole a peek."
• "Sorry, you're not my type."

Vilma goes the other direction, talking about how that player wouldn't be accepted and how uncomfortable he'd feel. How about how uncomfortable that gay teammate -- which you've likely had in the last two to three years -- feels being around you!

All this from the man who once tweeted: "Grown men should NOT have female tendencies. Period."

There is some serious insecurity going on in Vilma's head. He's played with gay teammates, he just doesn't know it. Vilma's so caught up in this macho nonsense that just being naked in the room with a gay man creeps him out. It certainly makes me think all the accusations about his involvement with the bounty incident were 100% true -- typical of that kind of guy.

Luckily, Vilma's attitude is in the distinct minority in the NFL. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ike Taylor, on the other hand, sees the issue for what it is:

"Regardless of who it is, straight or gay," Taylor said, "if he's on this team, he's a teammate of mine."


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(outsports.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Shares His Experience Of Defeating Manning In 2010

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma, who was the Saints linebacker in Super Bowl XLIV, shares his thoughts and secrets of how to go about beating Peyton Manning, as his Saints did in 2010.

“In my opinion, you have to study him,” Vilma said from the 30 Rock set of Pro Football Talk at the Super Bowl. “Don’t just study the offense. You’ve gotta study him. His mannerism, his throws, who he likes to throw to.”

However, that was four years ago, and it must be believed that Manning has learned from previous mistakes.

The challenge for the Seahawks is to find whatever hints and clues reside in Manning’s game now.


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(sportstalkflorida.com)
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Some proCanes Advance in the NFL Playoffs, While Others Are Sent Home Packing

JimmyGrahamSaints
With the first round of the NFL playoffs complete, some proCanes were sent home packing while others continue their quest for a Super Bowl ring.

With the New Orleans Saints defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Graham and Jon Vilma (IR) advance to the next round of the playoffs to take on the proCane-less Seattle Seahawks. Go Saints! The Eagles lost because they didn’t have any proCanes. Happy

Two proCanes were sent home with the Kansas City Chiefs losing a thriller to the Indianapolis Colts. DL Allen Bailey and TE Richard Gordon were sent home while Reggie Wayne (IR) will continue to help his team from sidelines in their next game versus the New England Patriots who have proCane DL Vince Wilfork who is also on IR.

The San Francisco 49ers behind the solid running of proCane RB Frank Gore ended up defeating the Green Bay Packers who lost proCane DB Sam Shields in the first quarter of their defeat. The 49ers will face the Carolina Panthers who have proCane TE Greg Olsen on the field and QB Coach Ken Dorsey on the sidelines. The Packers also have scouts Glenn Cook and Alonzo Highsmith on their staff as well as Winston Moss.

The Chargers who don’t have a proCane and defeated the proCane-less Bengals (boooooring), will face the Denver Broncos with their solid proCane offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.


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Jonathan Vilma's 'Celebrity Servers Charity Dinner' brings out the Saint in all of us

JonVilma
Coming off a great win against the Dallas Cowboys the day before, the New Orleans Saints and the Who Dat Nation were in ebullient spirits, especially at the “Celebrity Servers Charity Dinner” on Monday, Nov. 11. A benefit for the Jonathan Vilma Foundation, the star linebacker and his teammates, as well as a few local celebrities, traded their uniforms and work attire for aprons to wait on tables to raise money.

The evening started with a reception in The Shops at Canal Place, where guests could get up close to players such as Vilma, Pierre Thomas, Ramon Humber, Thomas Morstead, and former Saints player Steve Gleason (with whom they took photographs). The players also autographed footballs and aprons, which were sold at the event and proceeds went to the foundation.

The evening then moved to Morton’s, The Steakhouse, where fans enjoyed a four-course wine-pairing meal and could bid on items in the silent and live auctions. Those waiting tables, in addition to Vilma, Humber, Morstead and Thomas were New Orleans Saints co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, Saints players Jimmy Graham, Roman Harper, Will Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Will Herring, Cameron Jordan, Charles Brown and Robert Meachem, along with special guests former Saints player Michael Lewis, Mark Romig (who was the event’s live auctioneer and is the Saints' home-game PA announcer) and WVUE/Channel 8 Jennifer Hale, who served as the night’s emcee.

As of the next morning, the event had raised $180,000 for the foundation. Vilma established the foundation (working through the Giving Back Fund) after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. As Vilma’s parents are from Haiti, and family members remain, he is committed to assisting in the long-term rebuilding efforts. In 2011, the foundation partnered with Artists for Peace and Justice to create the first free, secondary school in Port-au-Prince. Since then, through foundation grants, the school has expanded and a third wing is under construction.


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Sean Payton: Vilma 'one of the all-timers'

JonVilma
METARIE, La. -- Coach Sean Payton on Thursday raved about linebacker Jonathan Vilma and what he has meant to the New Orleans Saints' organization both on and off the field, while also explaining why the team made the tough decision to place Vilma on season-ending injured reserve.

Payton said Vilma, 31, didn’t suffer any setbacks while playing 12 snaps last Sunday against the New York Jets. But the coach said it became evident that Vilma wasn’t far enough along in his recovery from a summer knee surgery to make the necessary impact on the rest of the season.

“That being said, the process that allowed him to go to IR, our decision to do that and then to kind of see if he could get better quick enough to play, I don’t regret. Especially with a player like Jon Vilma,” Payton said -- later adding, “Bring me as many Jon Vilmas as you can.”

Here’s more from Payton on Vilma:

On the decision: “The feeling on both of our parts was that what he’s used to and accustomed to playing, at a certain speed and a certain level and certainly what we’ve seen, still wasn’t there. But he’s progressing. ... It was more of just an overall knowing we’ve got eight weeks left in the season, and is he going to be able to progress enough to where he’s comfortable and we’re comfortable enough with his progress? ... But make no mistake about it -- this was something I’m sure was difficult for him to hear. There are some players that you almost have to pull off the field.”

On Vilma’s future prospects: “I know this -- I know he has made no long-term decisions. ... It is progressing. It is getting better, and that’s encouraging. That’s why I know for certain that there’s no finality or any decisions being made today. There doesn’t need to be.”

On Vilma’s approach to his rehab: “No. 1, I know he was real pleased with the surgery and the way it went. We were as well. I was encouraged with his recovery. He’s going to work (tirelessly) in anything he does. He’s so meticulous in preparation. So the same that you see in regards to a player that studies football was the same approach he took to rehabbing his knee.”

On what Vilma has meant to the Saints since he arrived in 2008: “He has been one of the all-timers as a coach, now, as far as a standup guy, a guy that prepares and a guy that takes everything he has done in the film room and brings it to the field. I’ve said this before. He has been what Drew (Brees) has been to our offense to our defense. You’re always going to go the extra mile with a player like that.”


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Source: Jon Vilma's career might be over

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's career may be over after he was placed on season-ending IR on Wednesday.

Vilma, who had just returned for his first game of this season, began the season on short-term injured reserve because of an arthroscopic procedure in August on his left knee, which has troubled him through multiple surgeries over the past two-plus seasons. The designation allowed the 10th-year linebacker to return to practice in Week 8 and to the active roster in Week 9.

Vilma was activated Saturday and played 12 defensive snaps in a 26-20 loss to his former team, the New York Jets, on Sunday. That represented about 20 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps. He was credited with one tackle.

Still, teammates expect him to be around and play a role in their success going forward.

''He's the heart and soul (of the defense). His voice speaks very, very loud,'' veteran safety Roman Harper said. ''He's always with us. He taught me how to play this game. There's a mental aspect of what he brings to a team and the leadership aspect is matched by none. He'll still be around and still be doing whatever he needs to do.

''We've always called him player-coach anyway,'' Harper added. ''He knows everything.''

Vilma was not present in the locker room at Saints headquarters when it was open to reporters on Wednesday.

After Sunday's game, Vilma said he ''felt fine,'' but added that he was eager to see how his knee responded in the coming days.

''It felt good to get back on the field to run around, really be with the guys, be with my teammates,'' Vilma said.

Coach Sean Payton did not explain or even acknowledge the roster move when he met with reporters after practice Wednesday, about two hours before it had been formally posted by the NFL. Payton generally declines to address roster moves until they've been made official.

However, the coach on Monday offered few compliments when asked about Vilma's return to action in New York.

''He looked OK; rusty,'' Payton said. ''There are some things that we have to get cleaned up.''

Vilma was traded by the Jets to the Saints in 2008 and was a captain of the 2009 Super Bowl championship team.

For his first four seasons in New Orleans, Vilma started at middle linebacker and was designated as the on-field defensive play-caller, with the earpiece in his helmet that allowed him to hear the defensive coordinator's instructions before each play. That ended last season, when Vilma was unable to train with the Saints for much of the offseason because of his suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty probe. The league named Vilma a ring-leader in a cash-for-hits program administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Vilma denied the allegations and his suspension was overturned, but he still missed the first five games of 2012 while rehabilitating his knee. His 2012 offseason procedures included one in Germany by a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Vilma played the final 11 games of last season, but not at his regular middle linebacker spot, which was assumed by Curtis Lofton.

''The thing about JV is he's very cerebral, just like having a coach in there. He sees stuff I don't see because I'm playing. He sees the whole picture,'' Lofton said, describing Vilma's exhaustive studies of opponents' game video. ''He's just been a great player for this team for many years. It's just a tough break for him. He spent a lot of time getting his knee ready to come back.''


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No decision on Jon Vilma's status

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La. -- Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is now eligible to return to the New Orleans Saints' active roster. But coach Sean Payton did not indicate Thursday if and when the Saints plan to activate him.

The Saints have until Nov. 11 to decide whether to activate Vilma or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

“He’s doing well. He’s getting reps. It’s just a matter of getting back into football-playing shape,” Payton said. “He’s someone who is a quick study, so he knows what we’re doing.”

The Saints have the luxury of bringing Vilma along slowly since veteran David Hawthorne has played so well in his absence. Hawthorne made two more big plays with a forced fumble and a sack last week against the Buffalo Bills.

Although the Saints haven’t discussed their plans for using the two linebackers going forward, it stands to reason that Hawthorne will remain the starter, with Vilma being used in a rotational role.

The Saints themselves probably don’t know exactly what to expect from Vilma when he returns to action. He has been hampered by a knee injury on and off for three seasons now, including the arthroscopic clean-up surgery in the preseason that landed him on short-term injured reserve.

Payton said it was good to have the new short-term I.R. rule (enacted last season) as an option.

“The uncertainty was the procedure, and yet we felt pretty good after the spring,” Payton said. “I think we spent some time on (Vilma’s roster status). But I think we really felt like it was important for our team to see this through.

“The good news is he’s going to work extremely hard at anything he does. I know he worked very hard at the rehab element of coming back and strengthening his leg. That’s a credit to him. I’m glad we were able to do that. I think that’s a good rule change, something teams can benefit from.”


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Jonathan Vilma returns to practice

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La. -- Jonathan Vilma has returned to practice with the New Orleans Saints, the first step in a possible return to game action from the club's injured reserve list.

Vilma's status was posted on the NFL's transaction wire Monday evening.

Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old Vilma had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in August. Vilma was placed on injured reserve to start the regular season, but designated for return, allowing him to remain with New Orleans and possibly return after eight weeks without consuming a spot on the active roster. Each team gets one such designation.

Vilma has had multiple knee surgeries and missed five games in each of the past two seasons. The Saints, who closed Monday's practice to media, have not said when they might activate Vilma.


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Jonathan Vilma says he'll start practicing Monday

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma appears to be one step closer to playing for the Saints again as he said via Twitter on Thursday that he will be allowed to practice with the team starting Monday.

Vilma said via Twitter, "Sean says I'm allowed to practice Mon!! After Mon it's the cliché "one day at a time."

Saints coach Sean Payton said last week he was optimistic Vilma could return to the practice field Monday for the first time since having another knee surgery during training camp.

Vilma remains on injured reserve/designated to return, but the Saints defender became eligible to practice with the team after Week 6. The Saints aren't practicing this week because of the bye week, so Vilma's first chance at hitting the practice field would be Monday.

Vilma would also be eligible to come off injured reserve and play in games in Week 9 at the New York Jets.


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Sean Payton: 'Jonathan Vilma could practice next week'

JonVilmaCanes
Sean Payton has revealed that Jonathan Vilma could return to practice with the team next week.

The New Orleans Saints linebacker was placed on the injured reserve designated to return list before the start of the regular season, having injured his knee during the pre-season.

The head coach told reporters: "He is progressing. We kind of look at it day-to-day, but that Monday coming back would be a potential day we would look at. I am optimistic he is going to be able to.

"It is kind of a bonus day for us. The first full day where you guys will be back will be on that Wednesday. Any time you have that extra day, we typically try to get in a bonus day on Monday.

"Tuesday the players will be off and then we would start up on that Wednesday. I am optimistic that he will get some work on that Monday. He's been doing well, yeah, so we will see. But he has been doing well with his progress."

Vilma had 37 tackles, a sack and an interception during his 11 games for the Saints last season.


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(sportsmole.co.uk)
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Jonathan Vilma to host 4th Annual Celebrity Servers event at Morton's the Steakhouse

JonVilma
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma will host his 4th Annual Celebrity Servers event at Morton’s the Steakhouse on Monday, November 11 from 6-10 p.m.

Vilma will be joined by his New Orleans Saints teammates as they trade in their helmets for aprons and serve guests a signature Morton’s four-course meal and fine wine. Guest also will experience a VIP cocktail reception and a live auction.

All proceeds benefit the Jonathan Vilma Foundation helping to build schools in Haiti and continuing students’ education.

Tickets are 400 dollars per guest and can be purchased now. For more sponsorship information, click here. 

ABOUT THE JONATHAN VILMA FOUNDATION NFL star Jonathan Vilma established The Jonathan Vilma Foundation to support the building of a school in Haiti. In 2010, a devastating 7.0 earthquake struck the region killing more than 230,000 people of which 40,000 were students and 1,000 were teachers. More than 50 schools were destroyed. Jonathan's parents emigrated from Haiti and family members remain in the country. Jonathan is deeply committed to assisting in the long-term rebuilding efforts.
In May 2011, the Jonathan Vilma Foundation made a $50,000 grant to Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) to help expand the school they built in Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake. The school is fittingly named the Academy for Peace and Justice. In April 2012, Vilma visited the school and met with the students who now receive free education, uniforms, food, clean water, transportation and medical care through the school. In 2012 and 2013, the Jonathan Vilma Foundation made grants of $100,000 and $50,000, respectively, to help further expand the Academy in Haiti. For additional information, please call 310.649.5222 or visit www.JonathanVilmaFoundation.org.

ABOUT LANDRY’S, INC. Landry's is a national, diversified restaurant, hospitality and entertainment company principally engaged in the ownership and operation of high end and casual dining restaurants, primarily under the names of Landry's Seafood House, Rainforest Cafe, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, The Chart House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper, Saltgrass Steak House and Oceanaire, as well as a fine dining signature group of restaurants: Morton's Steakhouse, Vic & Anthony's, Grotto, Willie G's and others. Morton’s The Steakhouse first opened in Chicago and now boasts 69 locations across the world. The Company is also engaged in the ownership and operation of gaming, hospitality and entertainment businesses, including the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada, and Atlantic City, the Kemah Boardwalk, the San Luis Resort Complex, and the Downtown Aquariums in Denver and Houston. Landry's and Mr. Fertitta's affiliated companies will generate approximately $2.5 billion in revenues in 2012. For additional information, please call 713.850.1010 or visit www.landrysinc.com.


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Jon Vilma prepares for business life

JonVilmaCanes
With the season underway, NFL players are now solidly focused on football again. But many of them spent their offseason developing business ventures off the field.

To help avoid the cautionary tales of players who have gone bankrupt despite making millions during their career, the NFL and NFL Players Association have put increasing resources into transitional and second-career programs.

One such program, the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative and its parent company, the International Franchise Association, hosted the NFL Franchising Boot Camp with the NFL and the University of Michigan in April. Michael Stone, a former NFL player and founder of PAFI, says approximately 25 players and 10 of their spouses attended this year's inaugural event.

Stone founded PAFI after retiring from the New York Giants in 2008. At that time, he felt there was a gap in the transitional experience of a player. He met former NBA player Junior Bridgeman, who owns hundreds of restaurant franchises, and learned about the benefits of being a franchisee.

"I thought franchising could be a good fit for an athlete because it has the support," said Stone. "It's almost like a business with a coach, with a game plan. I didn't have to create the game plan myself. I didn't have to design the plays or market my team -- everything was packaged for me, and all I had to do was execute the plays. I saw the parallels between that and the athlete experience."

Stone says in addition to that natural fit, the franchising industry is heavily regulated, making it a safer bet than some of the other business ventures athletes are approached with.

"A franchisor cannot lie to you about how many stores they've opened and closed or how many bankruptcies they've had," said Stone. "You can reach out to every franchisee and see how happy they are with the brand, how many stores they've closed, and their average revenue."

PAFI prides itself on not making decisions for athletes, but instead providing them with the necessary knowledge to complete their own due diligence and find the franchise opportunity that's right for them.

Everette Brown, who recently became a free agent after being cut from the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't go through PAFI, but he did find a franchise opportunity that fit him: a Tropical Smoothie Café he's opening in Charlotte, N.C., in October.

Brown says he focused on speaking with successful franchisees and used his alumni connections at his alma mater to learn more about the industry.

"I have a lot of connections through [Florida State], so I was able to go back and talk to boosters and go to different events and just network and ask questions and obtain as much information as I possibly could," said Brown.

For Brown, it was important to pick a franchise with a product he could stand behind.

"I had to look at what franchise fits what I'm about," said Brown. "That's where Tropical Smoothie Café stood out to me. I was first introduced to the brand when I went to FSU. The product is healthy and it tastes good. It didn't feel like something I had to force."

Brown says he knew it was important to look into business ventures off the field early on.

"The NFL stands for 'Not For Long.' That's the mindset you have to have."

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma says he has always understood the importance of developing a career off the field.

"[Developing business ventures] was always a priority for me when I was able to have enough cash saved up first," said Vilma, who's currently recovering from knee surgery. "If I made it three years in [the NFL] I had a certain plan, then if I made it five years I had a certain plan."

Now entering his 10th year in the NFL, Vilma has met those goals for saving money and has started venturing into other businesses in recent years. He owns South Beach bar Foxhole, a Brother Jimmy's BBQ franchise, and now he's a co-owner and franchisor of an app called BarEye.

Vilma is also having to navigate the perils of the business world; his Brother Jimmys BBQ franchise and the Marlins are currently suing one another over a failed concessions stand in Marlins Park.

But his BarEye app has been gaining traction.

BarEye allows users buy drinks for others at participating bars. Drinks can be purchased by those who aren't even present, with the recipient showing their phone to the bartender or scanning it at an iPad that BarEye provides to participating bars.

"Someone can log on to BarEye and say I'm at 'Bar X.' Let's say it's her birthday and she comes in with maybe five of her friends," explained Vilma. "Some of her friends can't make it, but they can still buy her a drink [using the app]."

BarEye came around at the perfect time for Vilma. Last year, he was forced to confront the reality of life outside of football head-on when he was suspended for the season for his role in the Saints' bounty program.

"I don't want to say it was a blessing," Vilma said. "But I was able to put more focus on BarEye and my restaurants at the time."

While Vilma appealed the suspension, which was lifted just before the 2012 season opener, he says he worked out for a couple of hours each morning to prepare for whenever he might play again, then he'd spend the rest of his day focusing on his business ventures.

"It gave me a lot of perspective," Vilma said. "Now I can prepare for life outside of football."


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Jon Vilma vows to move forward with NFL defamation suit

JonVilma
One day after his suspension in the NFL's bounty probe was overturned, Jonathan Vilma moved forward with his defamation claims against Commissioner Roger Goodell, while Drew Brees and other teammates went on the offensive against Goodell and the league office.

"What I would like to see is a level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to mishandling of this entire situation," Brees said after practice Wednesday. "We as players hold ourselves and are held to a very strict code of conduct both on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that, as it should be, and I feel like they should be held to the same standards.

"If someone would just come out in the league office and admit, `You know what? We could have handled this situation better,' it would go such a long way with both players and fans. People would really come around to realize what this thing was all about because right now the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players."

Speaking later at a special league meeting in Dallas, Goodell, when apprised of Brees' comments, said he wouldn't apologize.

"To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury is completely unacceptable in the NFL, and it is clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials," Goodell said.

Vilma was initially suspended an entire season while three other players — Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, received various suspensions of shorter lengths.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner appointed by Goodell to handle the final round of appeals, threw out the suspensions and ruled there would be no fines, either, for any of the players. However, he absolved only Fujita. Tagliabue still found that Vilma and Smith took part in a Saints program that rewarded injurious hits and that Hargrove was not entirely truthful when NFL investigators asked him about the pool, but he said the suspensions levied by Goodell were disproportionate to how players had historically been punished for similar behavior, and because there was no clear link to "tough talk" about taking opponents out of game and the actual play on the field.

In motions filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Vilma and the NFL Players Association filed motions dropping their claims against the league over the player-discipline phase of the bounty probe.

However, Vilma notified U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan he would continue to pursue defamation claims he filed against the commissioner back in May, and asked the judge to open the discovery process which includes the collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses.

Later in the day, Berrigan ruled against opening discovery at this time, likely because she has yet to rule on the NFL's motion to dismiss Vilma's claims.
Vilma made it clear that he still believes his reputation has been harmed by the way Goodell spoke publicly about allegations that Vilma was the ring-leader of a bounty program which rewarded hits that injured targeted opponents, and that he put up $10,000 bounties on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in the 2009-10 playoffs.

'No do-overs'
"Well the most important part of me being able to play now and not having to worry about a lingering suspension, that part is over," Vilma said. "I'm excited about that. The next part is really, that's outside of football. That's talking about attacking a man's character, attacking a man's integrity.

Vilma said he could not be sure what kind of settlement he might be willing to accept, but sounded like he was more interested in seeing through a court case with evidence made public than taking a financial settlement and keeping quiet.

"This is my career. There are no do-overs in football. I don't get to stop, wait five years and start over and come back with a new attitude, or a new face, or anything like that," Vilma said. "This is my legacy. This is what I leave behind. If I were to stop now, the only thing people are going to remember is the bounty. They're not going to remember anything before that. They're not going to remember all the accolades. That's why it's very important."

Goodell said Tagliabue's report "made it quite clear that he holds the management and the coaches responsible. My personal view is I hold everyone responsible. We have to have a personal responsibility here. Player health and safety is an important issue in this league."

Saints head coach Sean Payton is serving a full-season suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis served eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six.

Smith, the Saints' defensive end, also was critical of Tagliabue's opinion, saying that while he was pleased his suspension was overturned, he did not understand why he was completely exonerated. He said he thought the testimony of two key NFL witnesses in the probe, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, cleared him, though the NFL disagreed.

According to transcripts of closed hearings obtained by The Associated Press from a person with the role in the case, Williams and Cerullo both testified that Smith contributed money to a pay-for-performance pool that among other things rewarded hard legal hits, including those that knocked players out of games. However, when asked directly if Smith every put a bounty on anyone or even suggested that the Saints should try to injure any opposing player, both former coaches answered, "No."

"People actually think that we actually went out and did this, and we didn't do this," Smith said of the bounty program, adding that he had not decided whether to pursue any defamation claims of his own. "The only thing that was going on was a pay-for-performance that pretty much every other team in the league has and have had for years. That was it, I never participate in a bounty or put money down to injure another player or encourage other guys to injure other players."

Vilma said he was not bothered by the wording of Tagliabue's ruling, saying he fully expected the former commissioner, who works with a firm that represents the NFL, to be careful not to expose his client to liability.

Brees had a dimmer view.

"I hate to say this because it sounds so conspiracy theorist, but it seems like the last, at least, month or so, especially once Tagliabue stepped in, it's very staged, as in, `OK, how do we get ourselves out of this mess, let the players off," Brees said. "Thank God we have a union that can represent the players and fight the process and represent our guys. Unfortunately, the coaches don't have that. The coaches are told the way it's going to be, and they have no way to fight back unfortunately, because I'd say certainly Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn't deserve what they got.


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Jonathan Vilma in Middle of Legal Battle With Miami Marlin

JonVilma
NFL star and Miami native Jonathan Vilma is in the middle of a legal battle with the Miami Marlins, claiming the team failed to live up to its promises and mismanaged a concession stand related to his barbecue restaurant.

The Saints linebacker, who is a co-owner of the Brother Jimmy's BBQ franchise in Miami, and the team have filed lawsuits against each other in Miami-Dade over the failed stand at Marlins Park.

The Marlins' lawsuit, filed in June, claims Brother Jimmy's breached a sponsorship agreement with the team and failed to pay $75,000 in sponsorship fees for the 2012 season. It also claims Brother Jimmy's didn't give the Marlins 60 days' notice that they were terminating the agreement for 2013.

"Brother Jimmy's failure to pay the 2012 and 2013 Sponsorship Fee is a material breach of the Sponsorship agreement," the Marlins' lawsuit reads. "Brother Jimmy's has been unjustly enriched at the expense of Marlins."

Emails and phone calls to the Marlins and their attorney weren't immediately returned Thursday.

Brother Jimmy's says they never reached an official sponsorship agreement, but they allowed the team to prepare and sell their food at a discount under the Brother Jimmy's name. The restaurant claims the team botched the food stand so badly it had to be shut down.

"We did voice our concerns and we actually personally went there, we went to the games and we wouldn't let them know who we were, we'd go and taste our own food and we'd tell them look, 'this food is not to our standards,'" Vilma said during an appearance Wednesday on the Kup & Crowder Show on 560 WQAM. "It hurts us as a business because if for the first time a fan goes to Marlins stadium, they taste Brother Jimmy's, they say 'this food is terrible,' and all they're gonna remember is the bad food and or service that they got at the Marlins stadium and we expected better than that."

Vilma, 31, along with Chicago Bears linebacker D.J. Williams and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, opened their Brother Jimmy's restaurant at Mary Brickell Village last year. All three are alumni of the University of Miami. Other Brother Jimmy's restaurants are located in New York, New Jersey and even in Yankee Stadium.  

Brother Jimmy's claims they paid $25,000 to the Marlins in good faith, even though they never reached an official agreement.

"The service wasn't good and we're trying to build a name for ourselves and the Marlins and Levy group, the food company they're using, was putting out a bad product and it kind of was opposite of what we were expecting," Vilma said. "We expected something similar to the Yankees, where they put out a good product, what they sell you and what they market to you, what you're paying for is what you're gonna get.

"Unfortunately it just wasn't the case with the Marlins, they didn't sell us, actually they oversold us like they've done a few times now."

Phone calls to Levy Restaurants, which is based in Chicago and operates concessions in stadiums and arenas across the country, weren't immediately returned Thursday.

Brother Jimmy's and Vilma also claim the Marlins made promises that attendance for the new ballpark would average 28,000 per game for the 2012 season, a mark that wasn't hit.

"They unfortunately sold us a dream, the attendance wasn't what they were marketing to us, it was probably a fraction of that," Vilma said.    The Marlins came in 18th out of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball in 2012, despite opening their brand new, $600 million ballpark. So far in 2013, they're last in the league in attendance.

Brother Jimmy's claims the team also promised 40 non-baseball events at the stadium that were never held. Vilma said issues with bad service and bad food weren't rectified.

"This is huge for our brand, for our concept, for our food and they heard us but they won't really listen. It's the same old 'oh we're sorry, we're gonna do our best to make up for this, etcetera, etcetera, and instead, we got nothing, we got the same issues, the same complaints and the same problems," he said. "The next step for us, they filed suit, we filed a counterclaim and we let them know, the things that they tried to minimize in our suit is something that's very serious to our brand. Our food is our brand, the only way people are gonna want to enjoy or come to Brother Jimmy's is for the food and for the atmosphere."

Brother Jimmy's is seeking to get back the $25,000 they paid to the team plus damages.

"We can't have a one off in the Marlins stadium being the worst place to go for Brother Jimmy's and on top of that being one of the newer locations and a more visible location within Miami," Vilma said. "Hopefully we'll get it rectified. As I said, it's an unfortunate situation, they oversold us, I think we all know the Marlins have been doing a good job of that the past couple years."


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Jonathan Vilma to short-term IR

JonVilma
The New Orleans Saints placed linebacker Jonathan Vilma on injured reserve-designated to return Tuesday.

Vilma, 31, underwent knee surgery in August, and has had numerous surgeries on his left knee during the past two seasons. He missed five games in 2011 and started last season on the physically unable to perform list.

Tuesday marked the first day teams could use the short-term IR designation on a player. Vilma would be able to return to practice after Week 6 and get back on the field after Week 8.


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End of the road for Vilma?

JonVilma
These are words that no fan of the New Orleans Saints wants to hear. But Jeff Duncan simply might be pointing out a harsh reality when he writes that this may be the end of the road for linebackers Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma.

Smith is out for the season with a torn ACL. Vilma recently had knee surgery, his fourth (that we know of) in the past couple of years. It remains to be seen if Vilma will be back on the field this season -- or ever.

Smith and Vilma have been important cogs on this defense for a long time. They also are revered in New Orleans. Their status only grew last year when they avoided the suspensions NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tried to give them during the bounty scandal.

Vilma and Smith appealed at every juncture and that strategy worked.

But there’s no appealing their current situations. Vilma and Smith each took pay cuts to remain with the Saints this year. But age and injuries are catching up to them.

Smith has a ridiculous salary-cap figure for 2014. Vilma hasn’t been an elite player for several years.

The Saints need to start getting younger on defense. They’re already working on that with Smith out for the season and Vilma’s status uncertain for this year.

But, no matter how you look at it, it seems highly unlikely Vilma and Smith will be with the Saints in 2014.


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Jonathan Vilma has knee surgery, expected back for opener

JonVilma
Well, now we know why Jonathan Vilma was in Philadelphia, and what he was getting a second opinion on.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Saints linebacker is having knee surgery today.

Vilma is expected to miss the rest of the preseason, but is expected to be ready for the regular season opener.

Vilma’s viability has been a question on several levels. He missed six games last year because of knee problems, and had to take a pay cut just to keep his spot with the Saints.

There’s also a reasonable question of how good a fit he is in a 3-4 defense, and that question will now have to be answered without the benefit of preseason snaps to work on it.


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Jonathan Vilma battling injury

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma flew to Philadelphia on Wednesday to get a second opinion on an unspecified injury, a league source said.

Vilma, 31, has missed six of the past eight practice sessions and did not participate in the first preseason game. The team has not revealed what Vilma's injury is. Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday he wasn't going to discuss the situations of any injured players.

Vilma missed six games with a knee injury last season.


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Jon Vilma says he's in his best shape in years

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La. -- Although the bounty scandal is now behind Jonathan Vilma, so are nine punishing NFL seasons.

The Saints linebacker and longtime defensive captain appreciates that many will wonder if he's lost a step after 870 tackles since turning pro in 2004, not to mention several knee procedures in the past two years. Vilma responds confidently to the skepticism, saying his rehabilitation is complete, and that he is in his best physical shape in years.

"Physically, I'm very good, a lot better than last year," Vilma asserted. "I'd be stupid to say I feel as great as when I was a rookie. Of course not. I do feel able to run and do all the things that I was able to do back in 2010. ... I just needed a little time (to rehabilitate) that I didn't get last year because of everything that was going on."

Indeed, a year has made a big difference in many aspects of Vilma's life. Last summer, while fighting his bounty suspension in federal court, he testified that damage to his reputation hurt his ability to raise money for business and charity endeavors.

Now, not only does he believe his football career is back on track, he is also expanding his business interests. Already an investor in multiple restaurants and bars, Vilma spoke said he prepared for Thursday's launch of his new venture involving a smartphone application catering to bars and club patrons. The launch coincided with reporting day for Saints training camp.

"I've been fortunate to play football and make a living out of it, but business has always interested me," said Vilma, who majored in finance at Miami, and whose new venture is called BarEye.

This season, meanwhile, should provide a clearer picture of how long Vilma can expect to remain in the business of playing football.

Vilma, 31, missed five games in 2011 with a left knee injury, then had several surgeries and traveled to Germany to see a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

Even as he went to such lengths, Vilma said his rehabilitation was hindered by the league's bounty investigation, which named him as the ringleader of a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hard and even injurious hits. Vilma initially received a full-season suspension, which banned him from Saints facilities during much of the offseason and training camp.

Vilma maintained he would never intentionally injure fellow players, and that the bonuses were similar to incentives NFL players league-wide had offered teammates for years.

During a lengthy appeal, he was reinstated in Week 1 of the regular season, but placed on the physically unable to perform list before finally playing on Oct. 21.

With Curtis Lofton in his old middle linebacker spot, Vilma played outside linebacker in 11 games, recording a career-low 37 tackles.

Now he must adapt to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme, which features a switch from a 4-3 alignment (four linemen, three linebackers) to a 3-4. When Vilma last played in a 3-4 for the New York Jets in 2007, it did not suit him. He was traded to New Orleans in 2008, where he thrived in a three-linebacker formation.

Vilma said this time will be different because Ryan's scheme is flexible enough to capitalize on players' strengths.

"What I like about Rob is he's saying, 'I don't want to limit you by putting you in a stagnant 3-4,'" said Vilma, who is expected to play weak side middle linebacker, with Lofton on the strong side. "It's about: Let's get after it, be aggressive. Let's be fast."

Vilma noted that in former coordinator Gregg Williams' defense from 2009-11, the Saints often pulled out of their basic 4-3 and blitzed out of a 3-4.
Ryan studied film of those seasons and brought back some of those schemes.

"He told us, 'I'm not going to mess with you guys. I know what you guys do well and what you don't do well, so I'm going to put you in a situation that makes you look good,'" Vilma said. "Hopefully it turns out that way."


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Can Jonathan Vilma return to form?

JonVilma
We’ve hit the home stretch of the offseason with precious little time remaining for players and coaches to get their non-football lives in order.  The first practice for the 2013 season is Friday, July 26.

WWLTV.com will take a look at 10 questions for New Orleans entering training camp and the season. They’re in no particular order, just numbered.
We’ve love to get your thoughts on each day’s topic. Leave your comment below or on the station’s Facebook page to further the discussion.

8. Can Jonathan Vilma return to form?
Talent and effort have never been Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s issue. For every season that he has been healthy, he has finished with no fewer than 116 tackles.

But two things don’t play in his favor heading into the 2013 season.
A)    New Orleans’ switch to a 3-4 defense B)    He’s 31 and has had several big knee surgeries.

We’ll start with A. Vilma is a true 4-3 middle linebacker. He’s an on-field coach, one with the specific skills to single-handedly get the defense in order while tending to his own responsibilities. In the move to the 3-4, he’ll have to share responsibilities with Curtis Lofton and learn to attack the gaps in the offensive line differently.

That turns our attention to B. Vilma was never the most athletic player on the field. He always understood the defense and how to use his knowledge of it to get into position.

But coming off of two seasons in which he was never fully healthy due to a left knee injury that required extensive surgery in the ’12 offseason, one has to wonder if he has the physical tools still to succeed.

If he can’t physically elude blockers or keep up with players out on routes, whether he can transition to a 3-4 from a 4-3 won’t really matter.

Yet, he does have the size to succeed if his knee holds up. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he’s basically the same size as the Dallas Cowboys inside linebackers in 2012 and we don’t need to tell you that Vilma’s new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was with the team in the Lone Star State last year.

And Vilma is a much more mature player now than he was when the New York Jets moved to a 3-4 and, according to the Newark Star-Ledger on Nov. 7, 2007, told friends he wasn’t happy with the 3-4 system Eric Mangini had in place.

There are varying degrees in returning to form, however, and Vilma should return somewhere in the middle. He will undoubtedly be better than he was in 2012 when he spent the first week on the commissioner’s permission list before the next four were on the physically unable to perform list.

The best example that shows there’s still some gas left in Vilma’s tank came in the final game of the 2012 regular season. He finished with a season-high 11 tackles and intercepted a pass while defending two others.

But it’s hard to envision him as the marauding middle linebacker of 2009 when he finished with 130 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions and eight passes defensed.


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New Orleans Saints' Roster Top 25 Players: No. 23, Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
As a veteran who was an integral part of the Saints' Super Bowl victory but has seen a decline in performance over the past few years, Jonathan Vilma is No. 23 on my list of the top 25 Saints' for 2013. I'm sure the vast majority of you would put Vilma in your top 15, but his play on the field is just not what it used to be and in most people's minds he isn't even the best inside linebacker on the team anymore. Vilma's leadership is still unquestioned, but leadership only goes so far when your play is regressing.

It's difficult to truly evaluate Vilma's 2012 performance since so many variables came into play. Firstly, he didn't even see the field until Week 7 due to the scandal that shall not go unnamed. Second, Sean Payton was not around and Vilma had to come into a defense run by Steve Spagnuolo, an unfamiliar defense coordinator. Lastly, Vilma was playing a lot of outside linebacker instead of the middle linebacker spot he has occupied throughout his career before Curtis Lofton arrived. This last reason also contributes to Vilma's low ranking, as there is a fair amount of uncertainty as to how he will fit in the 3-4 defense. I do think, however, that Vilma's intelligence will allow him to pick up Rob Ryan's complicated schemes quickly. So in my book it's just a matter of if his level of play will be high enough.

In 2011, Jonathan Vilma was Pro Football Focus's third worst inside linebacker against the run. While it's hard to accurately gauge his performance in 2012 due to the aforementioned reasons, his play against the run seemed to improve in 2012. Coverage has been Vilma's forte, but that aspect of his game has also regressed a bit recently. He will definitely need to improve his tackling, though, as he missed nine tackles on 410 snaps in 2012 in comparison to 5 missed tackles on 657 snaps in 2012. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how he performs in this new scheme and with a chip on his shoulder, to say the least.


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Ranking the New Orleans Saints' players: No. 18, Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
Once again this offseason, our Saints coverage team has ranked the top 25 players on New Orleans' roster. We'll unveil the list every weekday as we count down to training camp.

The criteria is largely based on one question: Who would be the best players on the field if a game was played today? Past accomplishments and future potential also are taken into account.

There were tough decisions, which likely will lead to plenty of second-guessing. So let the debate begin.

No. 18: LB Jonathan Vilma
Last Year's Rank: 11
Season: 10; Age: 31; Height: 6-1; Weight: 230

Vilma might be the hardest player to rank on this list because we haven't seen him fully healthy since 2010. At that point, Vilma was a back-to-back Pro Bowl player and the best defender on the Saints' roster. It's possible he could return to a similar level now that he's finally recovered from a major knee injury. But it's no sure thing since he's 31 and switching positions to the inside weakside linebacker in the Saints' new 3-4 scheme.

Vilma is a bit undersized for a middle linebacker. But he has always made up for it with his great instincts and intelligence (linebackers coach Joe Vitt claims Vilma has a photographic memory). Vilma has always had a knack for making big plays. We just didn't see as many of them last year after he returned from knee surgery in Week 7.


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Jonathan Vilma practicing as starting ILB

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton worked as the Saints' starting inside linebackers throughout OTAs and minicamp.

Vilma is playing the weak-inside position, while Lofton is the strong-side inside linebacker or "Mike." David Hawthorne doesn't appear to be pushing Vilma, who is superior in terms of both range and coverage. Lofton led the Saints in tackles (123) last season and figures to do so again this year.


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VIDEO: Stephen A Smith Apologizes to Jonathan Vilma




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Rejuvenated Jonathan Vilma says it was worth taking pay cut

JonVilma
It's hard to imagine that any New Orleans Saints player is enjoying this offseason more than linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Although he still referred to the NFL's harsh bounty punishments as a "raw deal" on Wednesday night, he's no longer living under that dark cloud of a looming one-year suspension and a vicious legal battle against commissioner Roger Goodell.

Just as refreshing, Vilma is now fully healthy after battling through a major knee injury over the course of two full seasons.

And perhaps best of all, he's still here with the Saints.

Vilma, 31, had to take a significant pay cut to stay in New Orleans, from $6 million in salary and bonuses to $1.2 million. And that probably meant swallowing a good deal of pride for the three-time former Pro Bowler as well.

But it was worth it to Vilma, who wanted to be a part of this new, fresh start in 2013 that has created a noticeable energy and intensity inside the Saints' practice facility this offseason.

New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently referred to the inspired Vilma as "the talk of the weight room and the offseason."

"I think we definitely have the intensity. And that just comes from being able to focus on football and what really matters instead of really focusing on other things," said Vilma, who spoke publicly for the first time this offseason during guard Ben Grubbs' charity softball game at Zephyr Field. "I think Sean (Payton) put it best when we had our first meeting. We're not gonna let what happened fuel us. What's gonna fuel us is our team, our intensity, our desire to win, our ability to go out there and win some games."

I've liked a lot of the moves that the Saints have made this offseason. But I'm not sure any of them impressed me more than Vilma and defensive end Will Smith's willingness to take dramatic pay cuts to stay with the team.

Sure, the writing was on the wall for both former Pro Bowlers. They were no longer producing at the level that matched their price tags, and they had no choice but to take those pay cuts if they wanted to stay employed.

But these things don't always work out so smoothly. Just ask the Chicago Bears and legendary linebacker Brian Urlacher, who's still out of work. Or the Pittsburgh Steelers and James Harrison, who is now playing for the rival Cincinnati Bengals.

I think it says a lot about the kind of guys that Vilma and Smith are. And even though I don't think they'll return to a Pro Bowl level on the field as they enter the later stages of their careers, I do think they can still be assets both on and off the field.

They're among the most respected veteran leaders in the locker room - maybe even more so after showing their dedication to staying here.

"Hey, I'm good on the money side. So it's just about winning right now," Vilma said. "And, you know, we say that all the time. But I would like to believe that most of our team really believes that. That we're a team. It's not really about individuals, it's not really about selfish, it's just about winning.

"And I think that we kind of got a raw deal last year. It is what it is. And so we want to get back out there this year."

Vilma especially can't wait to get back out there at full speed.

He is finally back to full health after suffering a knee injury in the second game of 2011. Vilma tried to play through the injury throughout that 2011 season, then he eventually had major surgery that sidelined him until Week 7 of the 2012 season. He never looked quite like himself in either season.

It's hard to predict that Vilma will be able to return to the same level he was at when he was 28 years old. But he'll at least feel better while he tries.

When the topic of his health was brought up on Wednesday, Vilma didn't even wait for the question to end.

"2010. It's been a while," Vilma said. "It's about that time, right? Yeah, I feel good. What a difference a year makes."

Vilma will also have to make the transition to a 3-4 defense, which wasn't a great fit for him when he played it for one year with the New York Jets in 2007 after they made the switch under new coach Eric Mangini.

In fact, that was a major part of the reason why Vilma was traded to the Saints in 2008 - because he wanted to get back to playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, where he has always had his best success in college and the pros.

But Vilma insisted Wednesday night that he has no problem returning to that same position he played in the Jets' 3-4 - the weak-side inside linebacker spot.
And he already showed his willingness to embrace a position change with the Saints last year. When Vilma returned from his knee injury, newly-signed linebacker Curtis Lofton had taken over the middle linebacker job. So Vilma played weakside linebacker in the 4-3 and nickel linebacker, both for the first time in his career.

"I just didn't like the way we ran the 3-4 with the Jets," Vilma said. "And, you know, there's no point in going into details from way back then, but of course naturally I was going to say that. I was coming off a Pro Bowl and leading the league in tackles. So, duh. Of course I liked (the 4-3). But right now it's good. It's good."

Vilma said there are actually a lot of similarities between Ryan's defense and Mangini's defense.

"They came under pretty much the same lineage, so some of their terminology is the same and the way (Ryan) runs some of the defense is the same. It looks like he may be a little more aggressive than Mangini was. And we'll go from there," Vilma said. "You know, in New York we just didn't have the personnel. We had a small nose tackle, Dewayne Robertson, he was under 300. Our five-techniques were kind of light. So it kind of messed us up just with that respect. But the concept was good.

"We have some guys here I think that can play really well in the 3-4, we brought in a couple guys. And of course a couple guys we had from Gregg (Williams') system were kind of retro-fitted a little more for a 3-4 to stop the run (from 2009-2011). That's the big thing, stopping the run."

As for his early impressions of Ryan as both a schemer and a leader, Vilma sounded enthusiastic, though the team won't begin on-field practice sessions until next week.

"I like Rob. Rob is an old-school coach. You know, he believes in putting players in position to make plays," Vilma said. "So we're fine with (the changes). From what we've seen so far in the meetings and our install, it looks good. And it's just a matter of applying it now to the field."

When asked if he expects more aggressiveness from Ryan's scheme, Vilma said:

"You know what, you can create that one of two ways with a defense. Blitzing a lot, like Gregg used to blitz a lot. Or you can create it as far as just with the atmosphere, with Coach, his style, his demeanor, his attitude. And I think that he's getting it both ways. So we can be very aggressive with blitzing, or we can just be aggressive with our base defense and just play it well. So we'll see what happens."


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Jonathan Vilma has inside shot

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints LB Jonathan Vilma has been the talk of the weight room and seems to be the front-runner for the second inside spot.




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Jonathan Vilma took a $3.7 million pay cut to stay

JonVilma
Saints LB Jonathan Vilma took a $3.7 million pay cut to stay in New Orleans.

He sliced his salary from $4.8 million all the way down to $1 million. Vilma did have his offseason workout bonus increased from $100,000 to $200,000, but this was a pretty large pay cut. Vilma's salary cap number has been reduced from $8.633 million to $3.833 million. Though a poor run defender at age 31, Vilma remains decent in pass coverage. He'll likely be a nickel 'backer in 2013.


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Jonathan Vilma, Saints vets will be back, at right price

JonVilma
Statistically speaking, the New Orleans Saints had the worst defense in NFL history last season.

That reality cost defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo his job, but coach Sean Payton would like to retain some of the noted veterans of that depressing unit. Defensive end Will Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safety Roman Harper are high-priced talents Payton wants back. He knows that might not be possible, however.

"First off, I do envision those guys in a Saints uniform, and yet I'm also realistic and understand that every year since the beginning of free agency the percentage of players on your roster that turns over is different than it used to be," Payton said Tuesday on WWL-AM, via The Times-Picayune. "There was a time where you had your draft. What two or three rookies were going to beat out the veterans on a roster?"

The Saints have restructured multiple contracts on their roster in an effort to get below the salary cap. They're still over, meaning more work must be done by the start of a new league year on March 12.

"It's different now. There's an economic factor to it. It's as simple as a household budget," Payton said. "If you're going to have cable and you're going to have heat, you might not be able to have something else. So you've really got to look closely at your production, you've got to look closely at your cap."

Payton is keeping it simple, and so will we. Smith, Vilma and Harper will all be asked to take major pay cuts. If they refuse, goodbye and good luck.


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Jonathan Vilma offered reduced deal

JonVilma
The New Orleans Saints have offered a reduced contract offer to LB Jonathan Vilma, which would allow him to stay with the team. The two sides are discussing the deal.




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Saints will ask Jonathan Vilma to restructure contract

JonVilma
Two New Orleans Saints veteran leaders will have to work with the club on adjusted contracts to stick around in 2013.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith will be asked to restructure their contracts to help the team with its bloated salary cap situation, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Both agreed to restructure their contracts last offseason to help the Saints out on the salary cap front. Smith is set to make $9 million with a cap figure of $14.5 million this season while Vilma is due a $4.8 million salary as part of a sizable $8.6 million cap figure.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton already has agreed to a restructured deal to stick around in New Orleans as the team shifts from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator.

Saints head coach Sean Payton publicly said this month that Vilma can play in the new alignment while Will Smith may have the flexibility to remain a performer at the defensive end spot in the new front three set.


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Sean Payton sees a role for Jonathan Vilma in new New Orleans Saints 3-4 defense

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said he sees linebacker Jonathan Vilma as a piece of the team's new 3-4 defensive scheme, Payton said in an interview Tuesday morning on Sirius/XM NFL Radio.

The topic of Vilma's salary wasn't brought up, but Payton said he can see Vilma playing a weakside linebacker spot in the new 3-4 scheme, while Curtis Lofton would maintain his role as a middle linebacker.

"Yeah, I don't think anyone wants to place him over that guard bubble and have to take on that block," Payton said. "And I think he's a guy that runs to the ball and has great vision, very instinctual football player. I think you take some of that away if all of a sudden he's playing over an uncovered guard and now his size becomes an issue.

"A lot of things may concern you with a player change. So, he'll play over on that weakside position and I that will be very similar to what he did this past year. Curtis Lofton, who's a little heavier, will play on that strong inside Mike position. So I think that part of it for those two guys transition pretty well."

Vilma, though, is set to make $4.8 million in base salary and hold a salary cap figure of around $8.6 million. With the Saints being somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million over the salary cap, it's highly likely Vilma would have to take a drastic pay cut to remain in New Orleans. But Payton also used Vilma as an example of a player on the roster that can make the switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.

"I don't know that we have the pieces in place that we feel comfortable with, or certainly there's a transition," Payton said. "A lot of this process, as a matter of fact, he and I spoke for about an hour about certain players and where they line up the first day of OTAs. And then you take what you have on the roster and you begin to put them into these spots and then you tweak and you make adjustments and you look to make additions.

"I think the way that we're going to run this defense and the type of 3-4 that we're running will be such that you saw in Dallas or Houston. There will be some under defensive principles to it. Some reduction, which means that the left guard or weak guard for the offense will be covered at times, and I think that will help a guy like Jon Vilma as opposed to the traditional two-gap 34 front that many Giants fans knew back when Bill Parcells was there ... So I do think there's some work to be done obviously when you make a change like this.

"You have the scouts who need to identify what the prototypes are for these positions different from what the scouts and everyone else in the building viewed as a prototype for the 43 scheme. Now there are good football players that can fit into either one, but I think it allows everyone a chance to maybe visualize what we're looking for."

Payton said he did plenty of homework on new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan before making the hire a couple of days ago to replace the fired Steve Spagnuolo.

"I know this, and not having really spent any time with Rob prior to this process beginning, I did a lot of research on him and spoke to almost everybody that I know that's ever been with him and a ton of other people with different organizations," Payton said. "Number one, I know he's passionate about the game. I know he's very intelligent and players love playing for him.

"He's a very loyal guy. All the coaches I've spoken to that he's worked with have all said he's done a great job of putting together defenses and understanding strengths and weaknesses of his team. He was always difficult for us to prepare for in the times that we've competed against him.

"I'm excited about it. I sat in Dallas for most of the past year and for most of the suspension and I watched almost every Cowboy game just because it was one of the local games. ... I thought considering the injuries that they had this year, I thought they played well defensively and at times broke down."

Payton also said the read option offense is at the top of the study list during offseason preparation. He said it's not going anyway any time soon and it's all over the NFC.


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Jonathan Vilma saw Frank Gore’s ability up close in high school

JonVilma
New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma goes way back with 49ers running back Frank Gore – back to their days at Coral Gables (Fla.) High even before they were teammates at the University of Miami.

So Vilma knows Gore’s frustration over wandering in the NFL netherworld for the first six years of his pro career. As Vilma and Giants safety Antrel Rolle and onetime Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey – all Miami alums – won Super Bowl rings, Gore didn’t even sniff the playoffs.

That makes this week’s trip to the Super Bowl even sweeter, in some ways.

“It was really tough for him, with all his compadres from UM having team success in the NFL,” Vilma said in a phone interview today. “Frank had been to the Pro Bowl a few times, but he was tired of hearing how good he was and how terrible the team was.

“These last two years have been great for him – he finally got a taste of what it’s like to be a contender. I’m happy for him. He’s truly enjoyed the last two seasons. It’s invigorated him a little bit.”

Vilma, a three-time Pro Bowl selection perhaps best known for his involvement in the Saints bounty scandal (and his subsequent lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell), helped New Orleans win the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. That almost highlighted San Francisco’s struggles for Gore; the 49ers were 37-59 in his first six seasons, from 2005 through ’10.

“He was happy for me, of course, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘When is it my turn?’ ” Vilma said. “Now he finally has a chance.”

It didn’t take long for Vilma, who was one year ahead of Gore in school, to learn about the running back’s ambition. Soon after they met, before Gore’s sophomore season at Coral Gables, a soon-to-be-senior running back began spouting off about his anticipated turn as the starter.

“The guy was bragging about how he couldn’t wait to run the ball,” Vilma said. “Frank didn’t talk a lot, but I remember him looking at the guy, like, ‘You don’t really know what’s coming.’ I could tell Frank’s fiery, competitive nature.

“He didn’t say much until we got in pads – and then he lit it up. He was legit from the start. Needless to say, he took the guy’s starting spot. No one knew who Frank was, but he just had that look.”


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Judge tosses Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell

JonVilma
A New Orleans federal judge has dismissed Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, thus bringing a close to nearly all of the legal action in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Judge Helen Berrigan found Vilma's claims, and the evidence to support them, to be insufficient and upheld Goodell's right to investigate conduct detrimental to the league under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

But Berrigan took a swipe at Goodell's initial investigation and the pall the entire situation placed over the Saints' season.

"While the Court is extremely disturbed by the fundamental lack of due process in Goodell's denying the players the identities of and the right to confront their accusers, that was substantially rectified later in the process," Berrigan wrote. "So while the process was initially procedurally flawed, the statements were ultimately found to have enough support to defeat the defamation claims."

Vilma was initially suspended for the entire season. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who heard the players' appeals after Goodell upheld his own decision, vacated all of the suspensions of the players involved. But Tagliabue confirmed Goodell's factual findings a bounty program had been in place.

"We are obviously disappointed, strongly believe that the CBA does not give anyone -- including a commissioner -- a license to misrepresent and to manufacture facts, especially at the expense of another person's reputation, and are considering our options," said Peter Ginsberg, Vilma's attorney.
The Saints, without head coach Sean Payton for the entire season as well as interim coach Joe Vitt for the first six games, went 7-9. It was their first losing season since 2007.

"Even though this matter has been pending only since May of this year, it feels as protracted and painful as the Saints season itself, and calls for closure," Berrigan wrote. "The Court nonetheless believes that had this matter been handled in a less heavy handed way, with greater fairness toward the players and the pressures they face, this litigation and the related cases would not have been necessary."

The only pending legal action left pertaining to the bounty case is a class-action suit filed by a Saints season-ticket holder, who is claiming the value of his tickets was affected by the bounty case. The league has filed a motion to dismiss that suit as well.


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Jonathan Vilma upset with anonymous Saint's ripjob

JonVilma
An anonymous New Orleans Saints player told The Times-Picayune on Tuesday that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be fired. And that was one of the nicer things the player said about Spagnuolo.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is not amused. He's upset with the player and the newspaper for running the story. Vilma called the anonymous source strategy "B.S" on Twitter, then told the newspaper why.

"I'm bothered you reported it," Vilma said. "We're not the Jets, who run to the media for everything."

Vilma was asked if the player's comments about Spagnuolo's poor coaching and rough management style were wrong.

"That's not the question or the point," Vilma said. "If he's man enough to tell you, he should be man enough to put his name on it. And you should do the same."
A lot to digest here. A few thoughts:

1. Vilma not speaking to the accuracy of the statements says volumes about Spagnuolo. Here's what the anonymous player said about why no displeasure had surfaced until now.

"Trust me, all the guys were being politically correct this season when answering questions (this season)," the player said. "It's bad."

2. You have to respect Vilma's strong stance on the matter. He's not only upset with the player but the journalistic practices. A lot of people within the media agree with Vilma when it comes to anonymous sources.

3. It's comical that Vilma says, "We're not the Jets," and everyone knows exactly what he means.

4. Perhaps this is cynical, but we can't help but think Vilma's reaction was in part to let everyone know he wasn't the anonymous player.


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Jonathan Vilma ends turbulent season with his best game

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma didn't even let someone finish the question when he was asked Sunday if he couldn't wait for next season after the chaotic 2012 season he endured saying, "God, yes. Yes, very much so."

You would be hard pressed to blame him.

Twice Vilma faced season-long suspensions for his involvement in the alleged Saints bounty program, including accusations of placing $10,000 bounties on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre during the 2009 playoffs. And twice the suspensions were vacated as Vilma played in all 11 games he was eligible to play in after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

Maybe more important, Vilma never missed a paycheck and would have missed out on a year's pay had the NFL's original punishments stood in place.

Vilma wrapped up his season by leading the Saints with eight total tackles in the Saints' 44-38 loss to Carolina on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. His 18-yard interception return for a score off Cam Newton gave the Saints a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. It was the second pick-six of Vilma's career.

Vilma admitted after Sunday's game how much of a toll it took on him to endure the bounty scandal since the league first announced its findings in March.

"It's draining, but it's not an excuse," Vilma said. "You've got a job to do on Sundays. You have to prepare during the week, speaking about myself. That's not an excuse. Yeah, it was draining. You fly right after a game just to go up to D.C. and sit there for hours in hearings and things like that. As far as the rest of the defense, I would hope that it didn't affect the guys. I really tried to make it a point not to make it their issue. It's my issue, mine and Will's. I really hope it didn't affect them on Sundays."

Vilma seemed more upset with the way the defense played against Carolina allowing 44 points and 530 yards of total offense in the loss.

"It was very disappointing to lose the way we lost today," Vilma said. "I'm disappointed in my team the way we lost composure at the end. ... That starts with the leadership. That starts with the captains. I should have found a way to get my team under control. Unfortunately, it cost us. It cost us big. ... Some games we'll play lights out. Other games, we gave up 44 points and Lord knows how many yards."

Vilma was blunt when asked about the 2012 Saints defense setting the mark for the most yards allowed in a single season. "You get what get what you deserve," he said. "When you don't play good defense, that's what happens. Be a man and suck it up."

Age, health and his hefty salary cap figure may play a role into whether the Saints keep Vilma on the roster. Vilma has dealt with a lingering knee injury the past few seasons which is why he started the season on the PUP list. His salary cap figure for 2013 is also around $8.6 million, which could make him a cap casualty if he doesn't take a paycut.

"It's going to be whatever Mickey (Loomis) and Sean (Payton), what they decide," Vilma said about his future with the Saints. "That's management stuff. I don't get into that. I don't look at that. My job is to perform on Sundays. Hopefully I did a good enough job. Hopefully I will be here next year. If not, hopefully I will be somewhere. I don't know how it's going to work out."


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Jonathan Vilma's days could be numbered with cap cuts looming

JonVilma
Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma prevailed in their defiant battle against the NFL's bounty suspensions. But they'll face an even tougher adversary in the offseason:

The salary cap.

The two longtime leaders of the New Orleans Saints defense loom as the most likely veterans to be released as the Saints face the daunting task of slicing millions of dollars off their cap.

Unless the former Pro Bowlers agree to substantial pay cuts, their remarkable runs with the Saints likely will come to an end.

Neither Smith nor Vilma was interested this week in speculating about their futures. Although players are constantly aware of the business side of this game, they're equally aware that it does no good to dwell on their football mortality.

When Smith was asked if he has at least taken a moment to appreciate that he could be down to his final two games in a Saints uniform, he said, "Well, you always appreciate it. You never know. Nothing's guaranteed in this business."

"That's why you've always got to go out and perform, and that's why sitting at 6-8, you have two games left, you want to go out and play your best," continued Smith, who is tied for the longest-tenured player on the Saints roster with receiver Devery Henderson - both of whom arrived in the 2004 draft class (and both of whom could be gone next year, since Henderson is a free agent). "Because at the end of the day, this is a business. So you don't worry about this that and all these hypotheticals. You just go out and say at the end of the day, you'll know what's going on when it's time to go on. But right now it's nothing to be concerned about or worried about."

Vilma, who arrived in a 2008 trade, agreed.

"I don't even think about it," he said. "I'm not part of management, so that's not something I think about or worry about."

The Saints are projected to be around $16 million above the salary cap heading into 2013 - and that's even with pending free agents like Sedrick Ellis and Jermon Bushrod coming off the books.

Obviously, that means the Saints will have to make some serious cutbacks, along with some creative contract restructuring - something General Manager Mickey Loomis has always been adept at.

Smith, 31, and Vilma, 30, are the most likely candidates to be released, because of their hefty salaries and their diminished production in recent years. The end and outside linebacker positions are two spots where the Saints badly need to get younger and more dynamic.

Smith is due $10.15 million in salary and bonuses in 2013. If he's released, the Saints still will be charged $6.8 million over the next two years to account for the remainder of Smith's pro-rated signing bonuses.

Vilma is due $6 million in salary and bonuses. If he's released, the Saints still will be charged $2.6 million against the 2013 cap in pro-rated signing bonus.


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There's more to Jonathan Vilma than you might know

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La.—Jonathan Vilma hasn’t backed down from his fight against the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, even after scoring an overwhelming victory last week when his year-long suspension was overturned.

The way Vilma sees it, he still hasn’t gotten his reputation back. And he probably never will.

“You’re talking eight years before this happened, eight years of my career working hard, trying to be a good example of what it is to be a football player on and off the field. And in a matter of months, literally, all that is wiped away,” Vilma said. “The only thing you hear about when you mention Jonathan is ‘bounty’—either he did it or he didn’t do it. Some people believe me, some people don’t, regardless of the outcome.”

No matter which group you fall in, it’s hard to argue with Vilma on that account. He will probably be better known for the bounty scandal than anything he ever did on the field, which is a shame since his on-field accomplishments have been awfully noteworthy themselves.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection with more than 1,000 career tackles. A Super Bowl champion praised for going head-to-head against Peyton Manning in a battle of audibles in the biggest game of his life. A defensive rookie of the year with the New York Jets in 2004 after being a college star and national champion with the Miami Hurricanes.

Off the field, the 30-year-old Vilma’s credentials are equally impressive.

He was named the Saints’ Man of the Year in 2010 for his charitable efforts both in the U.S. and his parents’ birthplace of Haiti. And he was voted a team captain every year from 2009-2011 after being quickly embraced as a leader when he arrived via trade in 2008.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees particularly gravitated toward the equally competitive middle linebacker, known as the “quarterback of the Saints defense.” The two of them began a friendly but passionate rivalry on the practice field, with smack-talk and wagers on almost every two-minute drill.

“You just feel like that guy is the leader of the defense, and you respect him,” Brees once said of Vilma.

Ironically, the old story line with Vilma was that he was probably flying too far under the radar on a national level.

Heading into the 2011 season, after Vilma earned two straight Pro Bowl berths, he was ranked by his peers around the league as the 37th best player in the NFL on the NFL Network’s annual list.

At that time, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talked about how Vilma was probably even more appreciated by his opponents than the national public.

“I think he has gone to an elite player. He is one of the top in the league at his position. I think you would put him up there with anybody that plays that position,” Rodgers said before the Packers and Saints played in the Thursday night season opener. “For some reason, his name is often left out when you are talking about the best players at middle linebacker. It's unfortunate there is a number of very good guys in the NFC, when you think about Patrick Willis, and Brian Urlacher has a recognizable name. For some reason, I feel like Jonathan's name gets left out when you talk about Pro Bowl balloting and stuff. When it comes to the players that play in the game, there is no lack of respect for Jonathan Vilma.

“Any good defense starts with a talented, athletic, very intelligent middle linebacker, and that is what the Saints have in Jonathan Vilma.”

Unfortunately, Vilma’s career began taking a downturn just one week later when he suffered a knee injury in practice that would eventually require three different surgeries both during and after the 2011 season.

Vilma has never quite been 100 percent since, though he’s appeared to be on the mend since returning from the physically-unable-to-perform list in Week 7 this season. He has 37 tackles, one sack and one pass defense in nine games—mostly while playing the weakside linebacker position for the first time in his career.

Since his return, Vilma has played both nickel linebacker and weakside linebacker because younger Saints newcomer Curtis Lofton has become entrenched at the middle linebacker spot. And Lofton figures to remain there in the years to come as the Saints continue to remake the unit under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

As to whether or not Vilma will remain in the Saints' future, that remains a huge question mark.

Vilma is held in the highest regard by coaches and teammates as a leader with a high football IQ. Rising stars like end Cameron Jordan routinely refer to him as a valuable mentor.

But to have any chance of staying in New Orleans, Vilma will have to agree to a drastic pay cut from his scheduled $6 million in salary and bonuses—both because of his diminished production and because the Saints will be under some serious salary-cap constraints.

It is possible Vilma would do that, since he agreed to a smaller pay cut to stay with the team this year. But it’s also quite possible Vilma’s terrific five-year run with the Saints will end on a dark note, under the cloud of the bounty scandal that will never go away.


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Jonathan Vilma says Roger Goodell acted with 'reckless disregard for the truth'

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS — Jonathan Vilma urged a federal judge Friday to reject NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the Saints linebacker.

Vilma's request to U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan argues Goodell acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" when basing initial allegations about Vilma upon one fired Saints assistant, Mike Cerullo, whose testimony has been inconsistent and challenged by other witnesses in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints.

The motion centers on Goodell's public comments that Vilma held up $10,000 cash in a team meeting in 2010, offering it to anyone who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of a playoff game.

During recent NFL appeal hearings in the bounty case, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified he never saw any money.

"Williams has always told Goodell, and continues to state, that there was never any cash put up for a bounty on any player. It was 'just talk.'" Vilma's motion reads. "Nonetheless, Goodell irresponsibly chose to contend that Vilma walked around with $10,000 before the Cardinals game."

Vilma's season-long suspension and with various shorter bans for three other players were thrown out Tuesday by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who Goodell had appointed to oversee the appeals of player punishment.

After Tagliabue's decision, the NFL Players Association dropped claims in federal court on behalf of Saints defensive end Will Smith and two former Saints: Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Vilma dropped his claims against the league concerning the disciplinary process, but moved forward with his defamation case against the commissioner, asking Berrigan to allow discovery, which consists of the collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses. Berrigan has so far delayed discovery while the Goodell's motion to dismiss the case is pending.

In their effort to highlight how unreliable Cerullo was, Vilma's attorneys, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams, cite hearing testimony from Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who said Payton once arranged for police protection at his former suburban family home while he was away at league meetings because the head coach feared Cerullo was emotionally unstable and might harm his family.

While the lawsuit does not quote the testimony from the closed-door hearing directly, it appears in transcripts obtained by The Associated Press.

"An email was sent to the League about Mike Cerullo long before these (bounty) charges were brought up on our football team saying that Mike Cerullo was crazy, that Sean Payton had to have a police escort or, excuse me, police protection at his house because he was going to the owners' meeting, and he was worried about his family with Cerullo," Vitt testified. "This is the kind of guy we're dealing with. Allright?"

Vilma's motion also notes that the NFL subsequently dropped Goodell's initial allegation about Vilma physically holding up money in the meeting before the Arizona game.

"There can no longer be any doubt that Goodell acted with malice ... in making this quasi-criminal accusation against Vilma," the motion said.

The NFL continues to allege that Vilma offered a $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC title game, which followed the Arizona game. Williams testified that he recalled such an offer for that game, but never saw any money change hands and suggested the offer represented nothing more than tough talk in an emotional meeting that he allowed to get out of hand.


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Jonathan Vilma wants Roger Goodell's dismissal motion rejected

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- Jonathan Vilma urged a federal judge Friday to reject NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the New Orleans Saints linebacker.

Vilma's request to U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan argues Goodell acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" when basing initial allegations about the linebacker upon one fired Saints assistant coach, Mike Cerullo, whose testimony has been inconsistent and challenged by other witnesses in the NFL's bounty probe of the team.

The motion centers on Goodell's public comments that Vilma held up $10,000 cash in a team meeting in 2010, offering it to anyone who knocked Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of a playoff game.

During recent NFL appeal hearings in the bounty case, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified he never saw any money.

"Williams has always told Goodell, and continues to state, that there was never any cash put up for a bounty on any player. It was 'just talk.' " Vilma's motion reads. "Nonetheless, Goodell irresponsibly chose to contend that Vilma walked around with $10,000 before the Cardinals game."

Vilma's season-long suspension and three other players' various shorter bans were thrown out Tuesday by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whom Goodell had appointed to oversee the appeals of player punishment.

After Tagliabue's decision, the NFL Players Association dropped claims in federal court on behalf of Saints defensive end Will Smith and two former Saints: Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Vilma dropped his claims against the league concerning the disciplinary process, but he moved forward with his defamation case against the commissioner, asking Berrigan to allow discovery, which consists of the collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses. Berrigan has so far delayed discovery while Goodell's motion to dismiss the case is pending.

In their effort to highlight how unreliable Cerullo was, Vilma's attorneys, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams, cite hearing testimony from Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who said Payton once arranged for police protection at his former suburban family home while he was away at league meetings because the head coach feared Cerullo was emotionally unstable and might harm his family.

While the lawsuit does not directly quote the testimony from the closed-door hearing, it appears in transcripts obtained by The Associated Press.

"An email was sent to the League about Mike Cerullo long before these (bounty) charges were brought up on our football team saying that Mike Cerullo was crazy, that Sean Payton had to have a police escort or, excuse me, police protection at his house because he was going to the owners' meeting, and he was worried about his family with Cerullo," Vitt testified. "This is the kind of guy we're dealing with. All right?"

Vilma's motion also notes that the NFL subsequently dropped Goodell's initial allegation about Vilma physically holding up money in the meeting before the Arizona game.

"There can no longer be any doubt that Goodell acted with malice ... in making this quasi-criminal accusation against Vilma," the motion said.

The NFL continues to allege that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC Championship Game, which followed the Arizona game. Williams testified that he recalled such an offer for that game, but he never saw any money change hands and suggested the offer represented nothing more than tough talk in an emotional meeting that he allowed to get out of hand.


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Jonathan Vilma disputes Mike Cerullo's credibility in latest legal filing

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is calling into question the credibility of one of the NFL's primary bounty witnesses, former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, and the league's assertion that there was a bounty on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. Vilma and his attorney, Peter Ginsberg, are attempting to keep Vilma's defamation suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moving forward in U.S. District Court.

The details on Cerullo were part of a memo filed in opposition of Goodell's motion for Judge Ginger Berrigan to dismiss the defamation lawsuit.

The memo said Cerullo is the only person to claim Vilma put a bounty on Kurt Warner and Ginsberg claimed that the NFL doesn't believe Cerullo's account.

"Cerullo was fired for his incompetence and repeated and material lies to the Saints which caused him to miss several weeks of the 2009 season," Ginsberg wrote.

The biggest allegation is that Saints Coach Sean Payton had to obtain police protection at his home after the team fired Cerullo.

The memo also said Cerullo claimed that Mike Ornstein gave his $10,000 to Gregg Williams at a hotel the night before the NFC divisional playoff game against Arizona.

"Williams, as with the other Cerullo fantasies, never told Goodell that this accusation was true," Ginsberg said in the memo.

The memo also said Cerullo's story changed concerning whether he memorialized the supposed bounties on Warner.

"On November 13, 2011, Cerullo told Goodell and his investigators that he had taken 'detailed notes' about the supposed bounties on Warner," Ginsberg said in the memo. "Of course, no such notes were ever provided, as Goodell clearly knew, and Cerullo later denied taking any such notes."

The memo claimed Cerullo manufactured a spreadsheet of bounties "that even the NFL could not believe."

"The spreadsheet contended that the Saints defensive team and staff pledged an improbable $235,500 during the playoffs," Ginsberg said in the memo. "Cerullo now admits he has no explanation for the outrageous amounts shown on his spreadsheet."


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Saints counting on Jonathan Vilma to bolster defense

JonVilma
Here's one potential side effect of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision on Tuesday to vacate the bounty-related suspensions of Saints DE Will Smith and LB Jonathan Vilma: New Orleans might not make ignominious history on defense.

A year after setting the NFL offensive record for most yards in a season (7,474), the Saints are on pace to give up more yards than any NFL team ever, completing an improbable statistical about-face. The 1981 Baltimore Colts allowed an all-time high 6,793 yards while going 2-14. The 2012 Saints have yielded 5,680 yards through 13 games, a pace for 6,991 yards.

New Orleans has to hold teams to an average of 371 yards or fewer the rest of the way to avoid breaking the Colts' record. Without Smith and Vilma, that task would have been difficult.

Smith has started all 13 games, ranking second to Cameron Jordan among Saints' linemen with 51 tackles and five sacks. No other end on the roster has more than 17 tackles.

Vilma has made 25 tackles and started seven times at weakside linebacker since returning from a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Oct. 21. Coaches and teammates have credited him with stabilizing the defense with his leadership and ability to recognize offensive sets.

The difference has been noticeable despite the Saints' three-game slide. After giving up more than 400 yards in the first 10 games, the defense has yielded fewer than 400 in three straight, holding opponents to an average of 350.7 yards during that stretch.

“We are the same group that held San Francisco to 17 points [offensively],” first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said Monday. “That's a good offense. We went to Atlanta and certainly were very good on third down and [held them] under 300 yards. We didn't play well enough [against the Giants on Sunday, allowing 394 yards], but that just gives us a little more determination this week to regain that and go forward.”

The Saints are too far out of it to make a run at the playoffs with Vilma and Smith in the lineup for the final three games. All they can do is avoid a statistical embarrassment on defense.


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Jon Vilma moves forward in defamation case v. Goodell

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Jonathan Vilma has asked a federal judge to allow him to move forward with his defamation case against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Vilma drops his case against the NFL's disciplinary process, now that his suspension has been lifted. However, he continues to pursue damages from Goodell for harm he alleges was done to his reputation by the NFL's bounty probe of the New Orleans Saints.

In an NFL appeal ruling Tuesday, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out suspensions for Vilma and three other current and former Saints in connection with the bounty investigation. Tagliabue said the punishment was too heavy-handed, even though he affirmed much of the probe's findings that the Saints, including Vilma, had an improper cash-for-hits program and tried to cover it up.


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Jonathan Vilma will not challenge Paul Tagliabue's decision

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma has asked a federal judge to allow him to move forward with his defamation case against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Vilma drops his case against the NFL's disciplinary process, now that his suspension has been lifted. Vilma does not intend to challenge Commissioner Tagliabue's decision to vacate all proposed discipline. However, he continues to pursue damages from Goodell for harm he alleges was done to his reputation by the NFL's bounty probe of the New Orleans Saints.

Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, told NFL.com's Albert Breer on Tuesday that Vilma still intended to pursue his defamation suit.

"Jonathan intends to continue to pursue the defamation lawsuit in order to reclaim his reputation," Ginsberg said. "We're pleased that the unjust penalties have been overturned, but this is only one piece in remedying the situation for Jonathan."

In an NFL appeal ruling Tuesday, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out suspensions for Vilma and three other current and former Saints in connection with the bounty investigation. Tagliabue said the punishment was too heavy-handed, even though he affirmed much of the probe's findings that the Saints, including Vilma, had an improper cash-for-hits program and tried to cover it up.


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Ginsberg: Jonathan Vilma pursuing defamation lawsuit

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension was vacated Tuesday, but the New Orleans Saints linebacker still intends to fight for his good name.

NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Tuesday that Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, said the linebacker won't let go of the defamation lawsuit he filed in May against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Jonathan intends to continue to pursue the defamation lawsuit in order to reclaim his reputation," Ginsberg told Breer. "We're pleased that the unjust penalties have been overturned, but this is only one piece in remedying the situation for Jonathan."

That won't be an easy fight after Paul Tagliabue vacated punishments for Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Tuesday. The former NFL Commissioner dropped the suspensions but backed the findings of Goodell's investigation. Gabe Feldman, Director of Sports Law at Tulane, told NFL Network on Tuesday that Tagliabue's ruling makes Vilma's suit challenging.

"That was a difficult to begin with because of the very high standard if you're a public figure," Feldman said. "You have to prove actual malice. By Paul Tagliabue saying that he did find that Jonathan Vilma engaged in the conduct that was alleged by the Commissioner, it's going to be very hard for a judge to say that there was actual malice here, that the Commissioner lied about this and basically fabricated it. It doesn't eliminate the case, but it just makes the case a very difficult one."

The tangled saga of the "bounty" scandal is fading away, but not for Vilma. His fight wages on. The player's official statement, prepared by Ginsberg and obtained by Breer, spoke of a fight not yet over:

"Two competing forces have been at play since at least March of this year. Roger Goodell has been trying every conceivable maneuver to avoid real and honest scrutiny of his manufactured allegations that Jonathan Vilma engaged in a bounty program aimed at opposing players and Jonathan has been fighting to have an open and fair review of those accusations.

"We are obviously relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension. On the other hand, Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.

"We call upon Commissioner Tagliabue to release the transcripts of the proceedings held before him so that they are available as we go forward. Finally, it is regrettable that the NFL continues unjustifiably to attack the New Orleans Saints, an organization comprised of decent and honest people who continue to stand strong in the face of these baseless attacks."


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

JonVilma
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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(profootballtalk.com)
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Players reject 11th-hour settlement offer from NFL in bounty case

JonVilma
As former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue weighs the evidence in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, it's coming out that the NFL, which handed the case over to Tagliabue to avoid the appearance of impropriety, made a last-ditch settlement offer to the players involved, and that the offer was rejected.

Tagliabue is expected to reach a decision by Thursday.

The league offered to reduce the suspensions for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in exchange for admissions of guilt from the players, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

The settlement offers, which were first reported by Ed Werder and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, could have left Smith with a four-game fine and Hargrove with a two-game suspension, contingent on his signing with another team. It is not known what, if any, offers were made to Vilma and Fujita, the two players who have been most outspoken about the NFL's handling of the bounty scandal and current commissioner Roger Goodell's role in it.

On Oct. 19, Goodell announced that he was appointing Tagliabue, his predecessor, to take over the case.

"I have appointed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as the hearing officer for the upcoming appeals," Goodell said in a statement. "Paul Tagliabue is a genuine football authority whose tenure as commissioner was marked by his thorough and judicious approach to all matters. He has many years of experience in NFL collective bargaining matters and an impeccable reputation for integrity.

"To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process. Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions."

Vilma has said that he feels the Tagliabue-led process would be more fair and equitable.

"I think it's a good first step for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator," Vilma said before the hearings, which ended on Dec. 3, began. "We expect that he'll do things in a neutral capacity that will allow us to cross-examine some of the witnesses, that will allow us to see some of the evidence."

After his testimony, Vilma merely said that he was happy with the way that things went, and that Tagniabue seemed more receptive to all sides. He refused further comment, respecting Tagliabue's request that the process remain confidential until there is a ruling. However, Vilma did express consternation that two key witnesses, Former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, were to testify on October 29 and 30, and the Saints were playing the Atlanta Falcons on the 29th.  All suspended players are allowes to play pending appeal rulings, though Hargrove is without a team and Fujita is on injured reserve.

"I'm kind of disappointed in that because these are the guys that essentially made the case against me," Vilma said, while blaming Goodell for the timing of Cerullo's and Williams' testimony. "I would love to be there to see them, hear what they have to say, talk to Peter [Ginsberg]. my attorney, about it."

If Vilma and the other players don't like what they hear from Tagliabue, they can still seek relief from New Orleans-based judge Helen G. Berrigan, who has made some very testy comments from the bench when reviewing Goodell's broad powers and possible misuse of them. Berrigan has said that she will wait to drop her own particular hammer until she sees how the NFL's internal process takes shape.


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Jon Vilma Testifies As Bounty Hearings Continue

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- The latest round of appeal hearings in the NFL's bounty investigation have concluded with appearances by former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Vilma said his appearance went well but declined further comment citing a request for confidentiality by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has been appointed to oversee the proceedings. There were also several days of witness appearances in Washington, D.C., last week.

The hearings were scheduled to conclude in New Orleans by Tuesday, but ended Monday evening after about 10 hours of testimony from the three witnesses.
Tagliabue had informed attorneys representing all parties that he hoped to rule on the appeals of Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith and two other players shortly after the hearings conclude.

A person familiar with the situation says Tagliabue expects to rule by early next week, meaning Vilma and Smith expect to play Sunday against the New York Giants. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of Tagliabue's directive.

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the entire current season, are playing while their appeals are pending.

Like Vilma, Childress and Vitt honored Tagliabue's request for confidentiality after their appearances.

As Childress left the downtown law office on Monday he said he had "nothing to add."

Vitt also didn't have much to say, though he spent about five hours at the hearing.

The Saints coach had said previously, including under oath in federal court last summer, that his players never took the field intending to injure an opponent. As he left, Vitt said that testimony "was reiterated."

Vitt said he could not discuss details of the hearing, but added that it was good to see the former commissioner, who he'd met before. Vitt said that they had friendly exchanges, even sharing some old stories.

Vitt then headed back to the Saints' suburban headquarters to catch up on how practice went.

Two former New Orleans players also were banned: Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita had his suspension reduced to one game, while free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has not played in the NFL this season but faces a two-game suspension if he signs with a team.

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ringleaders -- and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as being in charge -- of a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011.

The league has sworn statements from Williams and former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo -- who testified last week -- saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC Championship Game.

Childress had informed the NFL after that game he'd heard from former player Jimmy Kennedy that the Saints had a bounty on Favre. Childress is currently the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator.

The NFL also has identified Kennedy as one of its witnesses, but Kennedy has said the league is lying about his statements. He added that the league irreparably damaged his reputation by its "shoddy, careless, shameful so-called investigation."

According to the NFL, Kennedy heard about the bounty from Hargrove, who has also denied knowledge of a bounty program.

Tagliabue has insisted that the contents of the appeals process remain private, and all of the hearings have been behind closed doors in private law offices.
Vilma offered a wave and a thumbs-up sign as walked into the downtown New Orleans' law office for Monday's proceedings. Vitt only joked to several reporters that he sees them "in his dreams" and that they should be at Saints' practice instead of the law office.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued the initial suspensions, which also included a full-season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Lawsuits brought by Vilma and the NFL Players Association to challenge Goodell's handling of the case, including his decision in October to appoint Tagliabue as the arbitrator for the appeals, are pending in federal court in New Orleans.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan gave the parties until Monday to answer questions about whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prevents a commissioner from handing out discipline for legal contact, and whether the CBA's passages about detrimental conduct are "ambiguous, hence unenforceable."

The NFLPA responded Monday afternoon, saying the labor agreement does not give the commissioner authority to punish players for legal hits. The union added that if Tagliabue interprets the agreement otherwise, the provisions pertaining to the commissioner's authority in the CBA would be unenforceable.
In its response to Berrigan's request, the NFL said players were not punished for on-field actions. The league said the players' suspensions resulted from meeting or locker room pledges, rewarding injury-causing hits and lying to NFL investigators about the incentive pool.

In March, the NFL announced that its investigation showed the Saints put together a bounty pool of up to $50,000 to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opponents. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000 -- with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs, the league said.

According to the league, the pay-for-pain program was administered by Williams, with Payton's knowledge. At the time, Williams apologized for his role, saying: "It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it."

Later that month, Payton became the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason -- banned for all of this season without pay -- and Williams was suspended indefinitely.


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(espn.com)
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Jonathan Vilma's testimony ends latest Saints' bounty hearings

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- The latest round of appeal hearings in the NFL's bounty investigation have concluded with appearances by former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Vilma said his appearance went well but declined further comment citing a request for confidentiality by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has been appointed to oversee the proceedings. There were also several days of witness appearances in Washington, D.C., last week.

The hearings were scheduled to conclude in New Orleans by Tuesday, but ended Monday evening after about 10 hours of testimony from the three witnesses.
"I think it did go well," Vilma, wearing a gray suit, said as he left a downtown high-rise where Monday's hearing was held. Vilma added that Tagliabue "seems a little bit more receptive" to his version of events than Commissioner Roger Goodell did. The linebacker declined further comment, citing Tagliabue's directive that the parties involved keep details of the hearings confidential.

Tagliabue had informed attorneys representing all parties that he hoped to rule on the appeals of Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith and two other players shortly after the hearings conclude.

A person familiar with the situation says Tagliabue expects to rule by early next week, meaning Vilma and Smith expect to play Sunday against the New York Giants. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of Tagliabue's directive.

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the entire current season, are playing while their appeals are pending.

Like Vilma, Childress and Vitt honored the Tagliabue's request for confidentiality after their appearances.

As Childress left the downtown law office on Monday he said he had "nothing to add."

Vitt also didn't have much to say, though he spent about five hours at the hearing.

The Saints coach had said previously, including under oath in federal court last summer, that his players never took the field intending to injure an opponent. As he left, Vitt said that testimony "was reiterated."

Vitt said he could not discuss details of the hearing, but added that it was good to see the former commissioner, who he'd met before. Vitt said that they had friendly exchanges, even sharing some old stories.

Vitt then headed back to the Saints' suburban headquarters to catch up on how practice went.

Two former New Orleans players also were banned: Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita had his suspension reduced to one game, while free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has not played in the NFL this season but faces a two-game suspension if he signs with a team.

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ringleaders -- and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as being in charge -- of a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011.

The league has sworn statements from Williams and former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo -- who testified last week -- saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game.

Childress had informed the NFL after that game he'd heard from former player Jimmy Kennedy that the Saints had a bounty on Favre. Childress is currently the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator.

The NFL also has identified Kennedy as one of its witnesses, but Kennedy has said the league is lying about his statements. He added that the league irreparably damaged his reputation by its "shoddy, careless, shameful so-called investigation."

According to the NFL, Kennedy heard about the bounty from Hargrove, who has also denied knowledge of a bounty program.

Tagliabue has insisted that the contents of the appeals process remain private, and all of the hearings have been behind closed doors in private law offices.

Vilma offered a wave and a thumbs-up sign as walked into the downtown New Orleans' law office for Monday's proceedings. Vitt only joked to several reporters that he sees them "in his dreams" and that they should be at Saints' practice instead of the law office.


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(nfl.com)
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Jonathan Vilma gives a little insight into Friday's bounty appeals hearing

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma took to Twitter on Saturday morning to give a little bit of play-by-play on Friday's bounty appeals hearing in Washington, D.C. His take:

"here's a recap of yesterday's hearing "blah blah blah blah bounty bullsh** still dragging on blah blah blah witchhunt blah blah blah blah"

The hearings continue Monday and Tuesday in New Orleans.


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(nola.com)
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Jon Vilma and chief accuser could come face-to-face

JonVilma
Saints defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma plan to be present Friday when their lawyers are scheduled to cross examine former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in Washington, D.C.

Williams is to appear at a hearing involving the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints on Friday morning, according to a schedule set by Paul Tagliabue. The former NFL commissioner has been appointed to oversee the latest round of player appeals in the matter.

"They're accusing us of things we didn't do," Smith said after Tuesday's practice. "That's part of the things that we wanted all along was to face our accusers."
Smith and Vilma will leave for Washington from Atlanta after Thursday night's game against the Falcons.

They are among four current or former Saints -- along with free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita -- who were issued suspensions of various lengths in the league's probe of the Saints' cash-for-hits program that ran under Williams from 2009 to 2011.

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the season, have been playing while their appeals are pending.

Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo were two of the NFL's central witnesses in the probe. Cerullo's appearance is scheduled for Thursday, which conflicts with the Saints' preparations for the game that night.

"We both want to be there, but we know we can't make it. We've both got to play football. That's the way it worked out. We will definitely be there Friday," Smith said, adding that he hopes Williams shows up. "He hasn't confirmed whether he would be there or not. We'll see what happens."

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ring leaders of the performance pool and produced sworn statements from Williams and Cerullo saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009-10 NFC title game.

The hearings were slated to begin Tuesday in Washington with the questioning of NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller. Tagliabue has requested strict confidentiality while the process is ongoing, and the hearings are being conducted in private.

Tagliabue also is holding the NFL is responsible for producing Cerullo and Williams. The Saints are responsible for producing Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and Vilma early next week.

Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, already has served a six-game suspension related to the bounty probe and has said that while the Saints had an informal performance pool that rewarded players for big plays including forced fumbles, interceptions, sacks and big hits, his players never stepped on the field intending to injure an opponent.

Vitt made similar comments under oath in federal court last summer when he was called as a witness in Vilma's defamation lawsuit against current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who published the initial bounty accusations and issued the suspensions, which included a full season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Lawsuits both by Vilma and the NFL Players Association challenging Goodell's handling of the bounty matter, including his decision to appoint Tagliabue as arbitrator for the appeals, is pending in federal court in New Orleans. It is not clear whether the judge intends to let more of the NFL's process play out before making a ruling.

Tagliabue has said he expects to make his appeal ruling shortly after concluding hearings on Dec. 4.


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(usatoday.com)
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Jonathan Vilma plans to attend bounty hearing with Gregg Williams

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La. — Saints defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma plan to be present Friday when their lawyers are scheduled to cross examine former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in Washington, D.C.

Williams is to appear at a hearing involving the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints on Friday morning, according to a schedule set by Paul Tagliabue. The former NFL commissioner has been appointed to oversee the latest round of player appeals in the matter.

"They're accusing us of things we didn't do," Smith said after Tuesday's practice. "That's part of the things that we wanted all along was to face our accusers."

Smith and Vilma will leave for Washington from Atlanta after Thursday night's game against the Falcons.

They are among four current or former Saints — along with free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita — who were issued suspensions of various lengths in the league's probe of the Saints' cash-for-hits program that ran under Williams from 2009 to 2011.

Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, suspended for the season, have been playing while their appeals are pending.

Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo were two of the NFL's central witnesses in the probe. Cerullo's appearance is scheduled for Thursday, which conflicts with the Saints' preparations for the game that night.

"We both want to be there, but we know we can't make it. We've both got to play football. That's the way it worked out. We will definitely be there Friday," Smith said, adding that he hopes Williams shows up. "He hasn't confirmed whether he would be there or not. We'll see what happens."

The NFL has described Vilma and Smith as ring leaders of the performance pool and produced sworn statements from Williams and Cerullo saying Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009-10 NFC title game.

The hearings were slated to begin Tuesday in Washington with the questioning of NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller. Tagliabue has requested strict confidentiality while the process is ongoing, and the hearings are being conducted in private.

Tagliabue also is holding the NFL is responsible for producing Cerullo and Williams. The Saints are responsible for producing Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and Vilma early next week.

Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, already has served a six-game suspension related to the bounty probe and has said that while the Saints had an informal performance pool that rewarded players for big plays including forced fumbles, interceptions, sacks and big hits, his players never stepped on the field intending to injure an opponent.

Vitt made similar comments under oath in federal court last summer when he was called as a witness in Vilma's defamation lawsuit against current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who published the initial bounty accusations and issued the suspensions, which included a full season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.

Lawsuits both by Vilma and the NFL Players Association challenging Goodell's handling of the bounty matter, including his decision to appoint Tagliabue as arbitrator for the appeals, is pending in federal court in New Orleans. It is not clear whether the judge intends to let more of the NFL's process play out before making a ruling.

Tagliabue has said he expects to make his appeal ruling shortly after concluding hearings on Dec. 4.


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(greenfieldreporter.com)
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Jonathan Vilma wants to look accusers in the eye

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma wants to face his accusers, former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, when the pair testify late this month in Washington.

But the Saints game on Nov. 29 in Atlanta will likely preclude Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith from attending the NFL bounty appeal hearing overseen by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Williams and Cerullo could face cross examination.

Naturally, that doesn't sit well with the Saints linebacker.

"Why would you make it so difficult on us to get there?" Vilma said Friday via nola.com. "Obviously, the intent was not for us to be there when you schedule it the way you scheduled it.

"I'm kind of disappointed in that these are the guys that essentially made the case against me. I would love to be there to see them, hear what they had to say. For whatever reason, (Tagliabue) felt like I didn't need to be there."

The hearing will play out on either Nov. 29 or Nov. 30, and legal teams for Vilma and Smith will be present. Vilma believes he will have his chance to testify on Dec. 3 or Dec. 4. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell excused himself from the Saints' appeals and appointed Tagliabue in October.


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(usatoday.com)
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Jonathan Vilma upset with timing of bounty hearings

JonVilma
Saints LB Jonathan Vilma said Friday he's not happy with the timing of Paul Tabliablue's hearings into the bounty-related suspension appeal.

Like teammate Will Smith, Vilma is OK with Tagliabue ruling on the appeal -- which also involves former Saints Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita -- before the end of the season. His problem is when his accusers, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, will testify.

Vilma said they had been scheduled to talk next Thursday and Friday morning, conflicting with the Saints' game at Atlanta on Thursday night. Vilma said he wasn't sure which of the two would testify Thursday and which would testify Friday.

“I'm disappointed in that because these are the guys that made the case against me,” he said. “I would love to be there to see them and hear what they have to say. For whatever reason, he (Tagliabue) felt like I don't need to be there.”

The statements of Williams and Cerullo were the primary evidence NFL commissioner Roger Goodell used in handing down a season-long suspension to Vilma and a four-game suspension to Smith. After Goodell appointed Tagliabue, his predecessor as NFL commissioner, to hear the appeal, Tagliabue agreed to make Williams and Cerullo appear at the hearings.

The hearing will end Dec. 4, and Tagliabue has said he will make a decision soon afterward. If he upholds the suspensions, Vilma and Smith will miss the final three games of the regular season. Their absence could be a critical blow to the Saints as they try to recover from an 0-4 hole to make the playoffs.

“There's always that possibility, but we feel like once Gregg and Cerullo get up on the stand and testify, there's no plausible way we can still be suspended after that,” Vilma said. “We'll see what happens.”

Vilma said it was impractical for either he or Smith to make the Friday morning time.


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(cbssports.com)
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Paul Tagliabue's bounty probe progresses

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS – Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to complete all hearings in the bounty probe by Dec. 4 and make a ruling shortly after.

In a document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Tagliabue directs the NFL to produce key witnesses in the New Orleans Saints cash-for-hits program, including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.

Four players initially were suspended, but those punishments were vacated. Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Meanwhile, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith are still playing pending the outcomes of their appeals.

Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.

For now, only Williams, Cerullo, Vilma, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller are the only scheduled witnesses.

They are scheduled to appear in a series of hearings in Washington D.C. running from Tuesday through Dec. 4. That means Vilma and Smith likely will be available at least for the Saints’ next two games against San Francisco this Sunday and at Atlanta on Nov. 29. They could also play at the New York Giants on Dec. 9.

Vitt said after Wednesday’s practice that he did not know anything about Tagliabue’s schedule and declined comment, saying he’s focused on getting ready for the 49ers.

None of the players have served a game of their suspensions yet, though Vilma was barred from attending Saints training camp before Goodell’s initial rulings were vacated during Week 1 of the regular season.

Vilma initially was suspended the entire 2012 season and Smith for four games.

The two other players punished are former Saints: Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, who is now on injured reserve, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove initially was suspended eight games, but that later was reduced to seven with credit given for the first five games he missed as a free agent. Fujita initially was suspended three games and that was later reduced to one game.

In the face of resistance by the NFL Players Association and lawyers separately representing Vilma, who had argued that Goodell could not be objective, the commissioner removed himself as arbitrator in the bounty matter and appointed Tagliabue, his predecessor, in his place on Oct. 19.

Tagliabue noted in his most recent memo that other witnesses could be scheduled. Tagliabue also said he expects to decide by Monday whether to allow the Saints’ personnel file on Cerullo to be included as evidence.

Players have argued that Cerullo was the NFL’s primary source of information about the Saints’ performance pool. They’ve also argued that Cerullo’s credibility is in question because he was fired by the club after the 2009-10 season and he had accused the club of preventing him from getting a job on another NFL coaching staff.

The NFL investigation concluded that Saints players were rewarded for hits that knocked targeted opposing players out of games from 2009-2011. The league said there was evidence that the Saints placed bounties on star quarterbacks including Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers.

Saints players and coaches have acknowledged they had a pool that rewarded players for big plays that included interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and big hits, similar to programs other teams have had across the league for generations. However, Saints players and coaches say no one ever intended to injure an opposing player.


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(masslive.com)
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Jon Vilma's return has helped Saints defense

JonVilma
METAIRIE — Jonathan Vilma’s status with the Saints as an on-field contributor looked dire in July when, in court filings related to his lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the public found out just how badly his knee was hurt during the 2011 season.

It was injured badly enough that he went to Europe for a new rehabilitation approach, one that included a new blood-spinning process known as platelet rich plasma therapy.

And yet, five games after coming off the physically unable to perform list, Vilma is contributing as much as anyone.

So much so, in fact, that the coaching staff believes he’s part of the reason for the Saints’ turnaround.

“I think you hit the nail on the head. Let’s face it – any defense is better with Jonathan Vilma in there,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.

Vilma has played in 183 of 372 defensive snaps, or 49 percent of the plays the defense has seen since the beginning of the Oct. 21 game at Tampa Bay. In those plays, Vilma has contributed 13 tackles, of which three were for a loss, and one sack. He also has two quarterback hits and one pass defensed.

He has been the most active, though, when he’s on the field alongside Curtis Lofton, the free agent middle linebacker New Orleans signed this offseason. Vilma has played in a two-linebacker set with Lofton as well in the base 4-3, where he lines up at weakside linebacker.

From Spagnuolo’s perspective, the combination of Lofton and Vilma has been a rousing success.

“They have really functioned well together,” Spagnuolo said. “I could see it on the film this morning. They are interacting as they are coming out and they are helping each other with the calls. There are some checks that need to be made by the Mike linebacker.

“Curtis does a great job on his own but to have another guy to lean on and somebody that might see one side of the football while he is looking at the other has been good.”


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(dailycomet.com)
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Joe Vitt says New Orleans Saints LB Jonathan Vilma will see more snaps

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been so desperate for more playing time that's he resorted to extreme measures: ask the media for help.

"So when you see (Saints interim coach and linebackers coach Joe) Vitt, tell him to play me," Vilma said a week ago. "Tell him to keep playing me. ... Tell him to take the pitch count off."

So Vitt was asked Thursday what Vilma needed to do to see more snaps against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

"He is going to see more snaps. With Jonathan Vilma, the biggest thing (challenge) I had as his position coach was protecting Jonathan Vilma against himself. He is a warrior. He wants to play every snap, he wants be in on every play and I saw it first-hand a year ago, what it did to him when he tried to play with that knee.

"He wound up having to get a surgery during the season and a major surgery during the offseason. He missed all of training camp so when he came back to play we were going to put him on a training camp rep count where he was going to get a certain amount every game. His reps are going to be up. We need him. He's getting better every day; his pad level, changing direction, it's fun to see."

Shortly after Vitt's response was reported on Twitter, Vilma responded via Twitter: "Yes!"

Vilma's snap count has been erratic during his first four games back with the Saints after coming off the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury, and of course dodging suspensions connected the Saints bounty scandal.

Vilma's total snaps in his first four games went as follows: Tampa Bay - 18; Denver - 68; Philadelphia - 24; Atlanta - 33.

Vilma has played weakside linebacker in the base defense, but has been replaced by Jonathan Casillas many times in nickel situations. Vitt said Vilma has been fully healthy for every game, but situations have dictated Vilma's snap count. Vitt added that he doesn't want to put too much on Vilma's plate that the Saints linebacker may not be ready for quite yet.

"He wants to play every down," Vitt said. "He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to make plays and he wants to help us win. There are some guys that want to play because they're selfish, they want more balls thrown their way and they want to up (increase) their contracts.

"Then, there are other guys that want to play because they want to be a part of their team, they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and that's Jonathan Vilma. I don't think I have to explain to anybody my respect for this man, his body of work, (and) how important he is to this football team. Again, we've got to do it the right way. This is still a long season."


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(nola.com)
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Jonathan Vilma ready to get off “pitch count”

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has made it clear that he’s ready to get off the “pitch count” that his coaches have put him on, so he can make a bigger impact by being on the field more.

“I told him he needs to take that pitch count off me, ASAP,” Vilma told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “I’m ready to go. I’m always ready to go.”

Vilma was on the field for 84 percent of the Saints’ defensive snaps against the Broncos, but interim head coach Joe Vitt like that was too heavy of a workload.
“Really, last week was like his third preseason game,” Vitt said. “Now Jonathan Vilma moved better in the game last week. He’s getting his conditioning. Really, his legs feel good. It’s all about angles and timing.”

Vitt feels like Vitt is ready to have his best game of the season on Sunday.

“He expects and we expect he will have one of his better games of the year this week, which we’re going to need,” Vitt said.


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(profootballzone.com)
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Paul Tagliabue refuses to recuse himself

JonVilma
In news as expected as "Mark Sanchez refuses to give up his job to Tim Tebow," former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has told both the league and the NFL Players Association he won't step aside as the arbitrator in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Tagliabue was appointed by current commissioner Roger Goodell, who recused himself from the appeals process last month. The NFLPA and Jonathan Vilma's attorney filed motions in a New Orleans court asking a judge to recuse Tagliabue.

The players believe Tagliabue is incapable of being an objective arbitrator because he's senior of counsel at the law firm representing the NFL in Vilma's defamation suit and because he still serves as an advisor for the league.

The motions are still pending. According to a report by ESPN, the hearings, which were originally slated for last week but were postponed by Hurricane Sandy, will be held on Nov 20.


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(usatoday.com)
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Jonathan Vilma acclimating to new position

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La.—Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma still is working his way back into the mix, while trying to get comfortable at a new position.

The longtime starting middle linebacker played 62 snaps against the Broncos last week, mostly at the nickel linebacker spot with a few snaps at weakside linebacker. It was a giant leap over the 18 snaps he played in his first game back from a knee injury in Week 7.

The Saints used Vilma so heavily because they spent almost the entire night in their nickel defense against the Broncos to guard against Peyton Manning. However, the Broncos combated that strategy by running the ball way more than expected and gashed the Saints for 225 yards on 41 carries. The Broncos used a ton of cutback runs, which got both Saints linebackers Vilma and Curtis Lofton tangled up in traffic for much of the night.

Eventually, Vilma started to do a better job of hanging back to guard against the cutback runs, and he did affect a couple of Manning’s throws when he blitzed. But it’s clear Vilma still is getting his feet back under him after missing the entire offseason.

The Saints are counting on Vilma to adjust quickly to his new position since they want both him and Lofton on the field together as much as possible. The Saints’ front seven needs to be more athletic and aggressive, especially around the edges, where they’ve been allowing too many big cutback runs this year. That will be especially important Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, with dangerous runners like tailback LeSean McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick.


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(sportingnews.com)
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Jon Vilma goes to court with former coach's email

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The attorney for New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed a court brief in the bounties case with an email from a former assistant coach who called the Saints a "dirty organization."

The email from Mike Cerullo to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello is part of a motion that seeks to block former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue from hearing appeals of the alleged program to pay for injury-producing hits. Vilma claims that Cerullo had a vendetta against Saints interim coach Joe Vitt after being fired.

The motion by Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, also challenges the NFL's plan to have Cerullo and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testify by telephone at the hurricane-delayed appeals hearing. Ginsberg writes that both men should be at the hearing if it goes forward.

Vilma was suspended for the entire season - the stiffest suspension of four players named in the bounties case - but he was allowed to suit up while appealing. Tagliabue was scheduled to hear the case this week, but it was delayed because of Superstorm Sandy. The other players are Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

Cerullo's email, dated Nov. 2, 2011, tells Aiello that he has information on Vitt lying to an NFL investigator about a bounty program "along with proof!!" Cerullo has been fired by the Saints after the 2009 season, which Vilma claims led him to seek revenge against Vitt and the Saints.

"I was there, in the cover up meetings, with players and Joe," Cerullo wrote. "I love the NFL and want to work there again, but I am afraid if I tell (the) truth I will never coach again in NFL. But I was fired for a situation the Saints encourage."

Cerullo said he was hoping to be hired by another NFL team and if talking with Aiello jeopardized his chances, "I will have to get back to you, but The Saints are a Dirty Organization."

Details of the email were first reported by ProFootballTalk.com.

Ginsberg said the NFL has agreed to make Cerullo and Williams, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, available by telephone for the appeals hearing. The attorney said that won't do.

"Given their importance to this matter, testimony by telephone is not an adequate substitute," Ginsberg wrote. "The NFL should be required to produce for in-person testimony any witness upon whom it intends to rely during the upcoming hearing so that the witness can be adequately examined and his or her credibility adequately evaluated."


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(cnnsi.com)
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Vilma's lawyer might question Mike Cerullo's motivation

JonVilma
While the appeals hearings for the suspended Saints bounty program players had been postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, there seems to be a chance that an email provided to Jonathan Vilma's lawyers by the NFL could possibly help Vilma in his appeal.

According to Pro Football Talk, Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, attached an email sent from Mike Cerullo, one of the major whistleblowers in Bountygate, to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in a new court filing.

PFT had a copy of the email, which reads:

“So I have info on Saints Joe Vitt Lying to your NFL Investigators on Bounties from 2010, along with proof!!! I was there, in the cover up meetings, with players and Joe, I love the NFL and want to work there again, but I am afraid if I tell thge [sic] truth I will never coach again in NFL, But I was fired for a situation that the Saints encourage. All I want is a Job back in the NFL as a QC Coach anywhere, so If talking to you jepodizes [sic] that I will have to get back to you, but The Saints are a Dirty Organization. Contact me.”

As PFT writes, this could lead the person hearing the appeals to believe that Cerullo is trying to exact revenge on Vitt, which would call his whistleblowing role for the NFL into question.

As Mike Florio writes, “The Cerullo email is marginally relevant to the effort to disqualify former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the bounty suspension hearing officer. But it will be extremely relevant to the overall appeal and litigation process, given that it makes a full cross examination of Cerullo even more critical to a fair disposition of the case.”


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(cbssports.com)
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Latest Vilma brief attaches whistleblower email from Cerullo

JonVilma
Earlier today, I mentioned that the latest court filing from Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the bounty case contains no new facts or legal arguments.

Man, was I wrong.

Attached to the brief is the email sent by former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo that resurrected the NFL’s investigation.  In a November 2, 2011 message to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, Cerullo states as follows:  “So I have info on Saints Joe Vitt Lying to your NFL Investigators on Bounties from 2010, along with proof!!!  I was there, in the cover up meetings, with players and Joe, I love the NFL and want to work there again, but I am afraid if I tell thge [sic] truth I will never coach again in NFL, But I was fired for a situation that the Saints encourage.  All I want is a Job back in the NFL as a QC Coach anywhere, so If talking to you jepodizes [sic] that I will have to get back to you, but The Saints are a Dirty Organization.  Contact me.”

The message contains proof of Cerullo’s alleged bias against Vitt.  As alleged by Vilma earlier in this process, Cerullo had vowed revenge against Vitt for firing Cerullo.  Separately, Cerullo’s zeal to return to the NFL calls into question everything he says.  Also, Cerullo’s reference to being fired “for a situation that the Saints encourage” requires that claim to be explored and compared to the stated and actual reasons for his termination, in order to properly evaluate Cerullo’s overall perspective and mindset.

The email is attached to a new declaration from Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, who explains that the email was produced by the NFL on October 23, 2012.  Ginsberg contends that the NFL completely removed Aiello’s response.

The Cerullo email is marginally relevant to the effort to disqualify former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the bounty suspension hearing officer.  But it will be extremely relevant to the overall appeal and litigation process, given that it makes a full cross examination of Cerullo even more critical to a fair disposition of the case.


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(profootballtalk.com)
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Jon Vilma says Goodell shouldn’t be allowed to pick next arbitrator

JonVilma
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma didn’t want Commissioner Roger Goodell to preside over the internal appeal of Vilma’s suspension.  Vilma got his way.

Now, Vilma doesn’t want Goodell’s designee to preside over the internal appeal of Vilma’s suspension.  Vilma may get his way.

Ultimately, Vilma wants Judge Helen Berrigan to appoint the arbitrator.

“In appointing Tagliabue, Goodell has shown beyond any doubt that he simply cannot be allowed to appoint the arbitrator to adjudicate this matter,” Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, writes in his most recent legal filing, “and the time has come for the Court to appoint a person who can fairly and impartially resolve the instant dispute according to the standards demanded by federal law.”

In attacking the appointment of Tagliabue, Vilma points to various factors that have been mentioned here in recent days.  Tagliabue works for Covington & Burling, the law firm that represents the NFL in the bounty litigation and other matters.  In 2010, the NFL paid Covington & Burling more than $3.8 million in fees.  In 2010, Tagliabue received $1 million in base compensation from the NFL, along with $7.583 million in deferred compensation and retirement benefits.
Vilma also explains that that, on October 22, he requested more information about money paid to Tagliabue and Covington & Burling since Tagliabue’s tenure as Commissioner ended, along with details regarding legal services provided by Covington & Burling to the NFL and its teams.  Vilma contends that the NFL refused to provide the information.

“Tagliabue cannot serve as an impartial arbitrator without compromising Covington & Burling’s and his representation of Goodell and the NFL,” Ginsberg writes.  “Any arbitration award short of a total affirmation of Goodell’s punishment conflicts, ostensibly at least, with what is the NFL’s best interests.  Likewise, any arbitration award challenging or rejecting Goodell’s conduct in this matter could jeopardize Goodell’s position in the pending defamation case.  If Tagliabue finds – as he should – that Goodell imposed discipline without basis, it follows that Goodell’s comments concerning the purported Bounty Program were reckless or in disregard of the truth.  Tagliabue thus would be in a position of issuing an award that exposes his client to liability for defamation.”

Though the NFL will respond by pointing to the fact that lawyers like Jeff Pash, who works in-house for the league, have served in this same capacity in the past, the fact that Tagliabue has a relationship with a firm that has a lucrative, ongoing, attorney-client relationship with the league creates the appearance of potential impropriety, which usually is enough to trigger judicial intervention.

Either way, we’ll have an answer by next week.  And it won’t be a surprise if Judge Berrigan disqualifies Tagliabue.


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(profootballtalk.com)
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Jonathan Vilma implores Saints to 'continue to hit'

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma is appealing his season-long suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, but his seemingly endless legal battle hasn't changed his approach to football.

On the eve of his season debut, Vilma gave a impromptu speech at the team hotel before the Saints' 35-28 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"He told us to hit -- and continue to hit," Saints guard Jahri Evanstold NFL.com and NFL Network's Jeff Darlington after the game. "It showed a guy that was hungry, ready to put the pads on and hit somebody. He hadn't hit anybody in a long time. I think it got a lot of people in the mood to just go out there and hit."

Vilma asked Darlington to talk to teammates about his speech, which struck a nerve with a locker room that looks up to the linebacker as a leader and believes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has unfairly targeted him.

"It was beautiful," safety Roman Harper said. "(Vilma) is an emotional guy. And who can blame him? He's been through a lot. He's the definition of a fighter. After all these things that have been going on, he's been battling through it.

"Now the rest of us need to do the same."

Vilma didn't start Sunday, but he saw time at weakside linebacker. He finished with no tackles and one quarterback hit. He can play next Sunday against the Denver Broncos before his appeal is heard by Paul Tagliabue on Oct. 30. Vilma's abbreviated season could be over after that.


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(nfl.com)
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Jon Vilma gives Saints 'D emotional lift against Bucs

JonVilma
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Inspired by Jonathan Vilma's return, New Orleans' porous defense found a way to keep Tampa Bay out of the end zone, then did it again to preserve the Saints' second straight win.

Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns, however Sunday's 35-28 victory over the Buccaneers wouldn't have been possible without a third-quarter goal-line stand and another stop to end the game.

"I don't know how much better we got. I know we won the game. That's always a positive," safety Roman Harper said. "We were always finding ways to lose a game, and now we're finding ways to win a game.

With Vilma playing for the first time while appealing a season-long suspension for his role in the Saints bounty program and Brees shrugging off an early interception that led to Tampa Bay's first touchdown, New Orleans (2-4) took another step toward turning around its season following an 0-4 start.

Vilma provided an emotional lift, if not any game-changing plays. Brees extended his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one TD pass to 49 and launched a 95-yard scoring drive that put the Saints up 14 points after the defense stopped four straight Bucs running plays from the New Orleans 1 late in the third quarter.

Brees was 27 of 37 and threw TDs passes of 17 yards to Marques Colston, 9 yards to Darren Sproles, 48 yards to Joseph Morgan and 20 yards to David Thomas to overcome the New Orleans defense yielding a season-high 513 yards.

Vilma, who has a hearing on his appeal scheduled for Oct. 30, finished with one quarterback hit but no tackles.

"I tried to not let my emotions get the best of me," Vilma said. I didn't want to put myself in a situation where I was going to hurt the team or anything like that, so I tried not to be overexcited."

Teammates said it was good to have him on the field.

"Having him back just, emotionally, really made a difference in this game," interim Saints coach Aaron Kromer said. "We were trying to get him in in certain packages, and we had a couple of linebackers go down early in the game."

Vilma was very business-like, answering questions while getting dressed in the locker room. He said he wasn't sure how many snaps he played, but that he felt fine and believed he was in good enough condition to play an entire game.

The ninth-year pro said he had always believed he'd get an opportunity to play this season.

"Most people didn't, but it was a long, drawn-out process, and for good or bad, it ended up this way and I was able to be back on the field with my teammates. That was a great feeling," Vilma said.

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been appointed as arbitrator for Vilma's appeal, as well as the hearings for three other players facing suspensions of various lengths.

"I think it's a good first step for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator," said Vilma, who played mostly in passing situations on Sunday. "We expect that he's going to do things in a neutral capacity, which will allow us to cross-examine some of the witnesses and allow us to see the evidence, if there is any evidence."


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(ap.com)
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Jonathan Vilma practices, Jimmy Graham doesn’t

JonVilma
We were told on Tuesday that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham should be able to play on Sunday despite an ankle injury suffered during a Week Five win over the Chargers.  While that may indeed be the case, Graham wasn’t well enough to practice on Wednesday.

Mike Triplette of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Graham didn’t practice on Wednesday, and that he looks to be “very questionable” for Sunday at Tampa.  Double-interim head coach Aaron Kromer declined to say whether Graham has a low or high ankle sprain, mentioning only that Graham “looked good” and that he was “able to run around a little.”

One guy who did practice but who probably won’t play this weekend is linebacker Jonathan Vilma.  The veteran defensive leader exited the Physically Unable to Perform list with a lingering knee injury.  Kromer, per Triplett, also used the “looked good” label for Vilma.

So far the Saints haven’t looked good.  They’ll get a chance to look better against the Bucs.  Either way, interim coach Joe Vitt returns to the sideline next week after his six-game suspension ends.


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(profootballtalk.com)
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NFL responds to Jonathan Vilma, NFLPA lawsuits

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL is again urging a federal judge to avoid interfering in Commissioner Roger Goodell's efforts to discipline four players for the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits bounty pool.

In a response Wednesday to papers the players filed earlier this week, the NFL says its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association gives Goodell the power to handle discipline involving conduct detrimental to football "at his discretion."

U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan is considering the players' request to overturn varying suspensions to Saints linebacker Jon Vilma (full season), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (seven games) and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (one game).

The players also want Berrigan to appoint a "neutral arbitrator" to handle any discipline in the matter.

The NFL argues that the players' request "turns the CBA (and the law) on its head."

"The parties agreed to "trust in (the Commissioner's) personal judgment," the papers filed by the NFL said.

The players have argued Goodell's public comments about the matter, dating to before he had even disciplined to the players, prove he cannot be impartial, and therefore has violated the players' industrial due process rights, which are also an inherent part the league's labor deal.

The NFL responded that the standard to prove partiality for an arbitrator within the framework of a labor agreement is much higher than for a judge in a court case. The league cited case law stating, "Nothing in the parties' contract requires arbitrators to arrive with empty heads."

The NFL also argued its evidence in the bounty matter is strong enough to justify the commissioner's actions, whether he was partial to one side or not.

"When all of the circumstances are considered, it is clear that the reasonable observer would not have to conclude that ... the outcome is due to 'bias,'" the NFL said. "The circumstances here include the fact that Plaintiffs do not dispute that the Saints program offered incentives for cart-offs and knockouts, and that cart-offs and knockouts were plays in which an opposing player was disabled or injured, at least temporarily.

"Not disputing that this program existed, Plaintiffs should not be heard to complain that an adverse appeal decision would have to be due to bias."


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(nfl.com)
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Saint Hope Jon Vilma will be ready to play vs. Bucs

JonVilma
METAIRIE, La. — As the Saints began their prepractice stretch Wednesday, receiver Lance Moore hopped up, looked over at linebacker Jonathan Vilma and hollered, "Glad you're back! We missed you!" The entire team applauded.

"Hello!" Vilma responded with a smile, still seated on the field, one leg pulled over another.

The former University of Miami standout then did something he had yet to do in 2012: practice.

And it was obvious the Saints were pulling for him to be ready to play Sunday at the Bucs, which might be his only chance to get back on the field this season if his bounty suspension, currently on appeal, goes back into effect in a week or so.

"Vilma continues to fight for what's right and a fair process, which I think is extremely justified," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "The fact that he was out there practicing (Wednesday), it just kind of puts a smile on everybody's face knowing what he's been through and having the opportunity to get him back."
Vilma did not work with the first team but also did not wear any kind of brace or sleeve on his surgically repaired left knee.

"He's back," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's doing a bunch of extra stuff, too, to make sure he's ready as far as conditioning and things like that. But he's ready to play. I know he's been champing at the bit and this is his opportunity this week and I know he'll be ready."

Vilma had several offseason procedures done on his knee.


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(tampabay.com)
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Report: Judge in Vilma case asks for documents from Goodell

JonVilma
The "Bountygate" case took another turn Tuesday when a judge in Jonathan Vilma's defamation suit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell demanded that Goodell hand over documents related to his suspension of the New Orleans Saints linebacker, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

According to the newspaper, Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles told Goodell to provide documents reviewed by NFL security related to accusations of the Saints putting bounties on opposing players, reports from witnesses interviewed, statements and affidavits from the investigation, and documents detailing the league's punishment issued in the case, including appeals.

The league will comply with the request, the Times-Picayune reported.

The court issued a motion to stay the discovery portion of Vilma's case pending review of the requested documents. The newspaper reported that Vilma will not have access to the documents even after the court receives them.

Vilma was suspended for the full season by Goodell for his alleged involvement in the Saints' pay-to-injury program. Goodell last week revised the punishment, allowing Vilma to collect his pay for the six weeks he already had been on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. His original sentence called for no pay for all 17 weeks of the season.

Vilma has said he'll come off the PUP list this week and play Sunday against the Buccaneers at Tampa Bay.

In the last 11 months, Vilma has had three surgical procedures on his left knee. He was placed on PUP when a collective-bargaining appeals panel temporarily overturned his season-long suspension and allowed him to rejoin the team just before the regular-season opener.


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(chicagotribune.com)
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Saints noncommittal on Jonathan Vilma's status for Bucs game

JonVilma
Barring a favorable ruling in federal court, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has a window of one week to play in the NFL this season. His coaches and teammates weren't about to close it as the team returned from its open date, as unlikely as the scenario appeared.

Vilma told New Orleans TV station WVUE on Sunday that he would be activated from the PUP list and play against Tampa Bay. Interim coach Aaron Kromer and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo spoke positively about him on Monday but were non-committal.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reconfirmed his season-long suspension of Vilma for bounty-related offenses last week, but Vilma has appealed the decision. That appeal will be addressed next Tuesday, making him eligible to play this Sunday at Tampa Bay.

The issue is his health and familiarity with Spagnuolo's scheme. The Saints placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform list when a three-man appeals panel lifted his suspension the week before the season opener and threw it back to Goodell.

Vilma is eligible to come off PUP on Tuesday.

"He hasn't practiced yet, and we'll see what we can do on that," Kromer said. "If he can come anywhere close to being near able to play, he's going to say that he's playing. That's just Jonathan Vilma. He's jumping out of his shoes since he got back here before Game 1. He's worked really hard the last six weeks on PUP. Physically, he feels ready. Mentally, he feels ready. He's excited, and we'll see what happens."

Vilma was ineligible to practice Monday because the NFL's sixth week will not officially end until after the Monday night game.

“It's my understanding he'll be able to practice on Wednesday, which is a great thing for our team,” Spagnuolo said. “We have some things to figure out, but it's a good problem to have. It's good to have a guy like Jonathan Vilma ready to go. We know he's a long way away, and he does, too, but you just have to love the guy. He loves playing, loves competing, loves the guys and wants to be out there.”

Atlanta import Curtis Johnson replaced Vilma as the starting middle linebacker and has a team-high 54 tackles, matching Vilma's total from all of 2011, when he was bothered by a lingering left knee injury. Vilma has had three procedures on the knee since last November, so his health remains a question. He also did not have any time under Spagnuolo until his first suspension was lifted right before the season.

“He's been right there step for step with all of us,” Spagnuolo said. “But he's got to get out there and get a feel. The game is fast. It's one thing to sit in a meeting room. My guess is that he's a pretty quick learner and will be up to speed pretty quick.”

Vilma is a long-time captain for the Saints.

“Just getting him back out there will be a morale boost for everybody,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “To see him out there with a helmet and pads on running around with a New Orleans Saints uniform on would be a huge step.”

Safety Roman Harper agreed.

“He's one our leaders,” Harper said. “He's a captain and our guy. You can never have too many good players.”


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(cbssports.com)
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Jonathan Vilma ready to play Sunday

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma says he will be activated from the physically unable to perform list and will be allowed to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Vilma was suspended for the season because of his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. The suspension was vacated on a technicality and reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vilma has appealed, as have present teammate Will Smith and past teammates Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita. All received suspensions of varying lengths and are eligible to play until the league rules on the appeals, which is likely to take place Oct. 23 (via ESPN).

“I’ll be allowed to practice, I’ll be allowed to play versus Tampa Bay,” said Vilma (via WVUE-TV).

Vilma has had three procedures on his left knee since last November and was placed on the PUP list during the second week of the season and has had several procedures on his knee, including platelet-rich plasma therapy in Germany.

“I’m feeling good, feeling good,” Vilma said. “I know that the media hasn’t seen much of me for a while, but I’ve actually been working out, working hard, training hard so I can get to this point to be able to give our team a chance to win in Tampa Bay.”

Vilma’s lawyers filed a motion today in a New Orleans court to vacate his suspension and “put a halt to the ongoing and fundamentally unfair treatment” by Goodell. The motion also seeks appointment of a neutral arbitrator, rather than Goodell.


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(washingtonpost.com)
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Vilma: Goodell's new suspension based on 'farcical review'

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed a motion in Louisiana federal court asking the court to vacate the reaffirmed suspension for the rest of the season recently issued by the NFL in the Bountygate case.

The veteran linebacker, who appealed the reaffirmation to commissioner Roger Goodell last week, is eligible to be activated off the physically-unable-to-perform list this week after spending the first six weeks on PUP while rehabbing a knee injury. Vilma told a New Orleans TV station he'll be activated and will play on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he must pass a physical before being cleared to practice.

The court filings ask Goodell to recuse himself in the case, as the NFL Players Association told USA TODAY Sports last week, and request the court "put an end to the ongoing and fundamentally unfair treatment of Jonathan Vilma."

Vilma's legal team claims Goodell "engaged in a farcical review (of the original suspensions), imposed the same judgment as previously imposed and continued his abuse of the process."

Vilma's team also claims Goodell "prejudged" the accusations against Vilma before giving him a chance to address them. It's their contention this "conflicts with the very essence of the NFL-NFLPA" collective bargaining agreement, which is why they contend the suspension should be vacated.

Included in the filings was a declaration from Vilma's attorney Peter Ginsberg in which Ginsberg claims former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy explained how he believes he was identified as the whistleblower in the case.

Kennedy told USA TODAY Sports last week he never talked to NFL investigators, had no knowledge of a bounty system and had a theory on how he was identified as being the league's snitch on the case. Ginsberg declares Kennedy told him he screamed at his teammates at halftime of the 2010 NFC Championship Game that they were allowing the Saints' defenders to hit quarterback Brett Favre "as if there's money on it."

The league claims Kennedy had told former Vikings coach Childress that Anthony Hargrove, then a Saints dfensive lineman, had told him of a $10,000 bounty on Favre. Ginsberg's declaration states Kennedy told him Hargrove never informed him of a bounty and that he didn't speak to Childress about the bounty system.

Vilma's legal team also asserts Vilma has never had a bank account in Louisiana and couldn't have withdrawn the $10,000 the league alleges he offered as a bounty on Favre and, the week before, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.

Also included in the filings is a transcript of Vilma's hearing before Goodell and the NFL's legal team last month. Vilma was asked about the pay-for-performance system and said players were rewarded for "cart-offs" or "knock-outs," which he claimed are the same.

Vilma said the players were rewarded only for legal hits in which opposing players left the game for only a few plays and were not injured, but rather had the wind knocked out of them.

"If his shoulder gets hurt, he is out for the rest of the game, he is injured, he is gone," Vilma said, accoding to the transcript. "If his knee, for example -- there was a time when Tracy Porter hit a receiver, something happened where their knee was messed up, they were out for the rest of the game, they literally had to be on the stretcher and carted off. These were serious injuries, you don't get rewarded for that."


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(usatoday.com)
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Jonathan Vilma asks judge to bar Goodell in bounty case

JonVilma
If the Saints decide Jonathan Vilma is ready, the embattled linebacker will take the field in Tampa Bay on Sunday for the first time this season.

It might also be the last time, depending on how things go at NFL headquarters and in federal court.

On Monday, Vilma again asked a federal judge to overturn his recently re-issued suspension in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints, and the NFL Players Association made a similar request on behalf of three other players.

None of the four players' suspensions are currently being enforced, but that could change as early as next week. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has scheduled the players' appeal hearings for Oct. 23.

The players want U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to begin considering their cases now so she may be ready to rule by the time the NFL's appeal's process concludes.

Vilma's latest filing said Goodell conducted a "farcical review" of his previously overturned disciplinary action before ruling last week that the Saints linebacker would remain suspended for the season.

The NFL did not immediately respond to requests for comment, deferring instead to its legal response which is due in federal court Wednesday.

Vilma is facing the longest suspension of four players punished in connection with what the NFL has said was a pool that rewarded Saints players with improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

Saints defensive end Will Smith was docked four games, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove seven games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita one game. Vilma's and Smith's suspensions remain unchanged from what Goodell initially handed down. Hargrove's suspension was reduced by one game and he was given credit for five games missed as a free agent. Fujita's ban was reduced from three games.

The NFL Players Association is representing Smith, Hargrove and Fujita. Vilma has his own lawyers, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams.

The players said Goodell has continued to abuse his power and demonstrate bias, leaving no hope for a fair process that would respect their "industrial due process rights."

They also asked Berrigan to bar Goodell from handling any further action in the bounty matter and appoint a neutral arbitrator.

"The commissioner of a professional sports league is not exempt from the requirement that he or she be impartial when serving as an arbitrator, and courts vacate arbitration awards when a commissioner falls short of the required standard of impartiality in considering a particular matter," Vilma's new legal papers said.

In the meantime, Vilma is eligible to return to the Saints' lineup.

The linebacker has been on the club's physically unable to perform list since shortly after his initial suspension was overturned by an NFL appeal panel on Sept. 7, but now that the first six weeks of the season have passed, the Saints could activate him as early as Tuesday.

While Saints coaches declined to confirm such plans, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said it was his understanding Vilma will "be able to practice on Wednesday, which I think is a great thing for our football team and our defense."

Curtis Lofton has taken over Vilma's middle linebacker spot, but Spagnuolo said there is room in the lineup for both.

"Let's get them out there, practice and get ready with the one focus being figuring out what's best to help our team beat Tampa Bay," Spagnuolo said. "That will be the No. 1 focus this week with nothing else in sight other than that."

Fellow linebacker Scott Shanle said it would be difficult for a player to adjust to the Saints' new defense in one week of practice, but added that Vilma might be an exception.

"In the 10 years I've played he's the smartest linebacker I've played with," Shanle said. "It was talked about a lot after the (2010) Super Bowl that it was Peyton Manning and Jonathan Vilma in an audible contest and Vilma consistently won, and our coaches always had that trust in him. So when you can get a player like that back, it's a huge boost."

Of course, if the Saints do get Vilma back on the field this weekend, they could still lose him next week.

All four players punished in the bounty probe have asked Goodell to recuse himself from the NFL appeals process, but he has so far refused.

The NFLPA pointed out in its latest motion that although Goodell was given the power in the league's current labor agreement to discipline players for conduct detrimental to football, he may only do so if he complies with "governing legal standards."

The union said Goodell violated those standards by talking publicly about the players' alleged wrongdoing before the disciplinary process began, and by failing to consider conflicting witness testimony or mischaracterizations of evidence by league investigators.

"It is startling that the Commissioner has damaged the careers and reputations of the Players on such scant, contradictory and incredible sources," the NFLPA said.

A three-member appeals created by the NFL's labor agreement vacated the initial suspensions on Sept. 7 and told Goodell he needed to clarify the basis for his rulings. The panel noted that punishments should not have anything to do with cash paid out of the Saints' pay-for-performance pool, because an arbitrator other than the commissioner is supposed to handle such salary cap violations.

The latest legal filings point out that Goodell repeatedly mentioned pay-for-performance allegations as part of the basis for the initial punishment, and that the commissioner's decision to maintain similar suspensions highlights the lack of fairness in the process.

Saints coaches and players have acknowledged the existence of a pool that both fined players for penalties and offered rewards for big plays, including big, non-penalized hits that may have resulted in opposing players leaving games for a play or longer.

Goodell has stated that in their acknowledgement of the pool, the Saints have admitted they encouraged hits that were shown to have injured opponents. Regardless of intent, Goodell said, such a program is intolerable because it sends the message that hits that hurt opponents deserve a reward, and that can affect how players on team approach subsequent games. Vilma and the NFLPA initially filed suit in July, but the matter was placed on hold when the NFL appeal panel vacated the initial player suspensions on technical grounds and the disciplinary phase started over.


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(cbc.ca)
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Jeremy Shockey to Vilma: 'Tell the world I'm not the snitch'

ShockeySaints
Former New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey had a little fun with former University of Miami (Fla.) teammate Jonathan Vilma on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.

"@JonVilma51 great seeing u last night buddy!! Pls tell the world I'm not the snitch!! Lol," Shockey tweeted at Vilma, no doubt referring to NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp's unfounded accusations back in March that Shockey was the whistleblower in the Saints bounty investigation.

Shockey, who is currently a free agent, did not appear anywhere in the documents released by the NFL on Tuesday which detailed the league's investigative process in the matter.

Vilma replied by retweeting the message and adding "lol I will bro. Good seeing u too!!!'


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(usatoday.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Off PUP List Tuesday, Allowed to Practice and Play Against Buccaneers

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma revealed on local New Orleans television this evening that he will be off the PUP list starting Tuesday, making him fully eligible to practice this week and play this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This according to a Larry Holder tweet:

#Saints' Jonathan Vilma said on WVUE he will be off PUP list Tuesday. "I'll be allowed to practice, I'll be allowed to play vs. Tampa Bay."

Vilma is eligible to play while he waits to appeal his suspension, which he said will most likely be next Tuesday, October 23rd, with a final decision being made a few days after that.

This is absolutely huge news! But initial excitement should be tempered. Being allowed to play is one thing, of course. Being game-ready and physically in shape is another. So just because Vilma is eligible to dress this Sunday, doesn't mean he actually will. My guess is that he won't. And is it really worth bringing him back for just one game, given the likely outcome of his appeal?

Still, having him line up with Curtis Lofton would be pretty sweet. How would that work? Does Lofton stay at MLB while Vilma moves to the outside? Or does Vilma get his old position back?


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(canalstreetchronicles.com)
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Jonathan Vilma Files Appeal




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Jonathan Vilma's lawyer rips bounty suspension

JonVilma
We've already heard from Will Smith, who has vowed to fight on after the NFL re-issued a four-game ban against him on Tuesday.

Now it's time for Jonathan Vilma to vent. Like Smith, Vilma's suspension time -- in his case, one year -- is unchanged. Vilma will get paid for the time he's been on the New Orleans Saints' physically unable to perform list. Originally, Vilma's ban included no salary for the year.

In the ruling by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vilma was again found to have pledged money to any teammate who could knock then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

On Tuesday, Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, released a statement on behalf of his client. The statement in full:

Commissioner Goodell has crafted a "revised punishment" that continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the "evidence." What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just. The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to appease an Appeals Panel decision ordering the Commissioner to pay attention to his authority under the CBA. Someone needs to tell the Commissioner directly that his duties also include being true to the evidence, to fundamental notions of due process and to the integrity of the game. That time hopefully will come soon.

Rather than fairly and impartially evaluate the evidence, the Commissioner instead has wrapped his arms around the architect of pay-for-performance programs, Gregg Williams, and attributes Williams' inflammatory language and bizarre slide shows not to Williams but to the players Williams coached.
Jonathan Vilma did not offer a bounty or any incentive to any teammate to injure an opposing player. Commissioner Goodell has now called every one of the dozen or more players and coaches a "liar" who has played the games with Jonathan and been in the locker room with Jonathan and who has sworn under oath to that fact. And to make matters worse, the Commissioner blatantly ignores other evidence that shows Jonathan did not do what the Commissioner, again, accuses him of doing. As but one example, Jonathan's bank records show that he did not withdraw $10,000 from his account at any time during the 2009 playoffs (or at any other time), the time period when the Commissioner claims Jonathan offered that amount of money as a bounty on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. Consistent with the Commissioner's disregard of the evidence, he did not even request to see the bank records showing this fact.

As another example, in the sworn statements of Williams and Mike Cerullo, the people the Commissioner found "credible," Cerullo swore under oath that he turned Jonathan's $10,000 over to Williams after the Warner game when no one "earned the bounty," and before the Favre game. Williams swears he never received any money from Cerullo or anyone else. Commissioner Goodell has further damaged Jonathan's reputation, compromised his career, and cast an unfair cloud over a fine and decent man. It is unfortunate that the process exhibited by the NFL has had no decency.

This will be a legal fight that will roll on long after the public's interest in the situation has faded. Frankly, that might have already happened.


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(nfl.com)
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Goodell's upholds suspension: Letter to Jonathan Vilma

JonVilma
We already shared with you part of a letter from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, explaining the decision to uphold his four-game suspension.

Goodell also decided to uphold the season-long suspension of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, although Vilma will be allowed to keep his weekly checks for six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.

Goodell’s letter to Vilma is much longer than the one he sent to Smith, so I’ll do my best to trim it up and include the most important items.

Here’s some of what Goodell wrote to Vilma:
“You confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a broader program in place among the Saints’ defensive players. You confirmed that these terms referred to plays in which an opposing player has to leave the game for one or more plays. You confirmed that, as (assistant head coach Joe) Vitt testified, an opposing player’s need for smelling salts under a trainer’s care was a consequence of the kind that the program sought to achieve and for which players were offered cash rewards from the incentive pool.’’

Goodell also went into detail and said a bounty system was in place during the playoffs at the end of the 2009 season.
“I also find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by offering a substantial financial incentive to any member of the defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the Saints’ 2009 NFC playoff game against the Vikings.’’

Goodell also wrote that there was credible evidence Vilma made a similar pledge about Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, but said he didn’t need to go into further detail because he already had evidence of one pledge of a reward to hurt an opponent.

Many New Orleans fans have labeled former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely, and former assistant coach Mike Cerullo, as "snitches,'' although maybe they were simply telling the truth. Goodell acknowledged both men provided details of the bounty program and said he found their versions credible.

“I am not persuaded by any suggestion that either Mr. Williams or Mr. Cerullo had an incentive to testify falsely, under penalty of perjury, about such conduct by you or by any other player. With respect to Coach Williams, you and he have repeatedly spoken highly of each other, and nobody has identified any reason why he would make false charges against the Saints or you in particular. In that respect, it is telling that even though he had already left the Saints and signed a contract to be the defensive coordinator for the Rams, coach Williams continued to deny the existence of the program in its entirety, and acknowledged the program and his role in it only after detailed questioning by our investigators. Equally important, neither Mr. Williams nor Mr. Cerullo was made aware of the substance of the information provided by the other in the investigation; as one example, each independently volunteered to investigators that the bounty that you pledged with respect to Mr. Favre was in the specific amount of $10,000.’’

Aside from the statements from Williams and Cerullo, Goodell also said others, including Vitt, former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, talked about a meeting in which things got “out of hand’’ and pledges were made for big plays.
“Those statements support the written declarations, made under penalty of perjury, by Coach Williams and Mr. Cerullo about the events of that evening. In contrast, your statement that nothing out of the ordinary happened and that no pledges were made by anyone at that meeting is inconsistent with the information provided by other players and is simply not persuasive.

“I find, based on all of these facts and the entire record described above, that you did, in fact, pledge money to any teammate who injured or disabled Mr. Favre to an extent that he would not be able to continue playing in the playoff game. I recognize that you and some of your teammates have denied that you made such a pledge or claim not to recall your doing so, but I am persuaded, based on the entirety of the record before me, that you did so. And I find that such a pledge or any similar incentive is conduct detrimental.”


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(espn.com)
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Jon Vilma displeased with Goodell's new bounty decision; legal challenges could go on

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and the NFL players union left little doubt they remain determined to challenge Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to suspend players in connection with the league's bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints.

Goodell ruled Tuesday that Vilma, a linebacker, would remain suspended for the season, while Smith, a defensive end, still would face a four-game ban. The two players, among four who've been wrangling for months with the league, scoffed at the commissioner's latest decision.

Vilma said on Twitter that the new ruling "is not news to me pride won't let him admit he's wrong." Smith issued a statement saying he will continue to explore his appeal options.

Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said in a statement that Goodell's new ruling "continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the 'evidence.' What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just. The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole."

The stakes are now somewhat lower for defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita. Hargrove's suspension effectively stands at two games after Goodell reduced his eight-game ban to seven and gave him credit for five games missed while he was a free agent. Goodell lowered Fujita's suspension from three games to one.

Hargrove and Fujita did not respond to requests for comment, but the NFL Players Association, which has been representing them, remained critical of Goodell's decision to punish the players and the process by which he reached his decisions.

"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever," the said in a written statement. "The only evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake."

The players were implicated in what the NFL said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. The players have acknowledged a pool, but denied they intended to injure anyone.

Williams, now with St. Louis, has been suspended indefinitely. Saints head coach Sean Payton is serving a full season suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis is suspended eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six. The Saints, a playoff team the past three seasons, have opened this season 1-4.

The initial player suspensions were vacated during Week 1 of the regular season by an appeal panel created by the league's labor agreement.

The players can delay their new suspensions by appealing again through their labor contract. They could also ask a federal judge in New Orleans to revisit their earlier request for an injunction blocking the suspensions.

Goodell, meanwhile, stood by the substance of the investigation that began three years ago.

"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental (to the game) are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available," Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.

The panel that vacated Goodell's initial disciplinary decision did not address the merits of the league's investigation. It asked Goodell to clarify the extent to which his ruling involved conduct detrimental to the game, which he has the sole authority to handle, and salary cap violations resulting from bonus payments, which would have to be ruled upon by an arbitrator other than the commissioner.

"In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story," Goodell wrote. "In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play."

Only Smith and Fujita have played this season. Vilma has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and hopes to return in two weeks when the Saints play at Tampa Bay. Goodell's new ruling did make a financial concession to the Saints linebacker, saying he can be paid for the six weeks he is spending on the Saints' physically unable to perform list.

In a written statement, Smith said he remained frustrated "with the continued unilateral rulings by this commissioner as he continues to disregard the facts and assault my character."

"I never participated in a 'pay-to-injure program,' never took the field with intent to injure another player, and never contributed any money to hurt other players," Smith said. "It was my hope that those investigating would put their arrogance and agenda aside in order to comprehend the difference between a 'pay-for-performance program' and a 'pay-to-injure program,' but until that day, I will continue to pursue my appeal options through the NFLPA, and attempt to return to work for my family, teammates, fans and the city of New Orleans."

The players declined to meet with Goodell before he made his initial disciplinary rulings in early May or during the first appeal process.

Goodell began to reconsider his disciplinary actions after the Sept. 7 appeal panel ruling and this time all four players agreed to meet with him. During those meetings the NFL produced sworn declarations by Williams and another former defensive assistant, Mike Cerullo, in which they stated that they observed Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of 2009-10 playoff games.

Ginsberg, however, said Cerullo's and Williams' sworn statements are not credible because they conflict with one another on various points. Ginsberg also said the commissioner ignored the sworn testimony in federal court of several current and former teammates who denied the league's accusations against Vilma.
"Commissioner Goodell has further damaged Jonathan's reputation, compromised his career, and cast an unfair cloud over a fine and decent man," Ginsberg said. "It is unfortunate that the process exhibited by the NFL has had no decency."

Vilma has indicated previously that he would be inclined to continue fighting his suspension before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan. The judge has stated that she found the NFL's disciplinary process unfair and that she would be inclined to grant Vilma at least a temporary restraining order if she believed she had jurisdiction on the matter.

However, Berrigan also has stated that she is hesitant to rule until she is certain the players have exhausted all possible remedies available to them through the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

The other three players have been represented by the NFLPA, which stated it will carefully review Goodell's latest decision and "protect our players' rights with vigilance."


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(foxnews.com)
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Jonathan Vilma 'anxiously awaiting' NFL ruling; 'no decision has been made' on lawsuit

JonVilma
Jonathan Vilma is "anxiously awaiting" a second ruling from the NFL on the Saints bounty scandal, Vilma's attorney told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora and, at this moment, "no decision has been made" on Vilma's lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.

After receiving a season-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal, Vilma filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Goodell. Vilma's suspension, along with suspensions for three others -- Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove -- recently were reversed. But the ruling also opened up the door for Goodell to reissue punishments against the "Bounty Four."

A source close to the situation tells La Canfora that Vilma is likely to continue and pursue the legal action against Goodell unless Goodell decides to drastically reduce the punishment he originally issued.

As such, Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said the linebacker is holding the course on his current lawsuit.

"Nothing has been decided in any regard, and we are anxiously awaiting the commissioner's decision," Ginsberg told La Canfora.

Vilma is currently on the Saints PUP list and has been vehement in his denials of the NFL's accusations.

Earlier this month, after the suspensions were overturned, Vilma met with Goodell during a lengthy conference. Fujita recently had his meeting with the league canceled, but it's expected that it will be rescheduled.

There have been conflicting reports about whether or not Vilma would be willing to settle his lawsuit. The NFL called reports of a settlement "completely inaccurate."

Whether or not those reports become a reality likely depends on how much punishment Vilma is given this time around.


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(cbssports.com)
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Goodell-Vilma ruling next week

JonVilma
A judge said he will rule next week on Roger Goodell's request to stop Jonathan Vilma's lawyers from deposing the NFL commissioner and obtaining documents related to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Vilma has filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Goodell in connection to the league's handling of the bounty scandal. Peter Ginsburg, Vilma's lawyer, has subpoenaed Goodell, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo.

U.S. Magistrate Daniel Knowles III said late Thursday that he will rule on whether Ginsburg and Vilma's other attorneys can proceed with all of those requests next week.

Earlier Thursday, Ginsberg appeared before Knowles to address the timing of discovery in the lawsuit, arguing that Vilma's team had the right to collect the information in a timely fashion.

Goodell is contending he has the right to resist a requested deposition until after U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan rules on his motion to dismiss the defamation action. Vilma and Ginsberg contend that neither the law nor justice tolerates any further delay.

Vilma and Ginsberg also contended that Goodell has neither standing nor basis to stop requests for information from Williams or Cerullo.

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, meanwhile, is expected to meet Friday with Goodell. Fujita is the last player from the bounty scandal to meet with Goodell after the appeals panel made its decision to lift the suspensions of the four players punished in the bounty scandal.

When the appeal panel vacated the suspension of players in the Saints bounty case on Sept. 7, Berrigan issued an order saying she would take no action on pending matters "at this time." After that order, Ginsberg began sending out subpoenas demanding documents and depositions related to Vilma's defamation claims. Ginsberg has asked to depose Cerullo on Oct. 9, Williams on Oct. 15 and Goodell on Oct. 23.

Knowles suggested the court will resolve the dispute expeditiously.


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(espn.com)
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Jon Vilma posts phone number, email address of ESPN “character study” producer

JonVilma
With the lockout of the officials reaching a full boil, it's easy to forget the pot that's bubbling over on the back of the NFL's stove. Bountygate lingers, and a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that ESPN plans to televise this weekend a "character study TV feature" on Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. ESPN has contacted players via letters signed by Barry Abrams, a Feature Producer.  Abrams invites players to call and "chat . . . for 10 minutes or so" on the subject, explaining that the story will run on September 29 or 30. It's unknown whether ESPN is hoping to demonstrate good character or bad character.  Based on the recent Outside the Lines profile of coach Sean Payton, chances are that Abrams isn't hoping to dig up marshmallows with his shovel. Thereafter, Vilma posted a copy of the letter on Twitter, along with Abrams' phone number and email address. "Why is ESPN secretly conducting a character study on me?" Vilma asked on Twitter.  "They really think I wouldn't find out?" Vilma's Twitter timeline since last night has some funny stuff, including messages encouraging Saints fans to contact Abrams. We wonder whether Vilma's reaction will now be used as part of the character study.  In the end, that may be all the dirt they manage to dig up.

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(profootballtalk.com)
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NFL seeking to block Jonathan Vilma's request for evidence

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL has asked a federal judge to block Jonathan Vilma from demanding evidence in the league's bounty probe related to the New Orleans Saints linebacker's defamation lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The league says Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsburg, has this month subpoenaed the NFL, Goodell, NFL investigator Joe Hummel, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.

Ginsberg has demanded documents and sought to schedule depositions, including a deposition of Goodell on Oct. 23.

The league says demands for evidence are premature because its motion to dismiss the lawsuit is still pending. The NFL's motion asks U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to rule on whether to enforce a stay of discovery by Oct. 10.

Vilma's lawsuit says Goodell publicly prejudged Vilma without sufficient evidence.


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(nfl.com)
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Jonathan Vilma’s lawyer subpoenas Gregg Williams

JonVilma
A lawyer representing Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints has subpoenaed Vilma’s former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, in an effort to find out more about the affadavit signed by Williams, ESPN reports.

In the affadavit, Williams alleges that Vilma had offered a $10,000 bounty to knock quarterback Brett Favre, then with the Minnesota Vikings, out of the 2009 NFL Championship game. Vilma, whose year-long suspension for his alleged role in the Saints’ bountygate scandal was recently thrown out, has denied any involvement in the scheme.

“What Gregg Williams said in his most recent affidavit is the same falsity he has previously provided,” Peter Ginsberg, Vilma’s lawyer, said. “I don't know what Gregg Williams' motives are, but I do know that any suggestion by Williams that Jonathan put up $10,000 as an incentive for his teammates to injure another player is absolutely false.”

When Vilma, seeking to have his suspension thrown out, met Monday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he was presented with a copy of Williams’s affadavit. Williams, who most recently was the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator, has been suspended indefinitely by Goodell.

“You obviously want me to be guilty if you can't see that Gregg was bullied to sign the affidavit. He signed three days ago! #weakattempt,” Vilma tweeted after the meeting.

Vilma added that he can produce nine affadavits saying he was not part of a bounty program and his lawyer issued a subpoena for Mike Cerullo, a former assistant defensive coordinator. “Ask the nfl to "leak" cerullo's declaration too. Every1 will have a field day reporting how their stories don't match,” Vilma tweeted.


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(washingtonpost.com)
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Jonathan Vilma, Roger Goodell Meet

JonVilma
NEW YORK -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma spent Monday afternoon having a "very frank, very truthful" meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his suspension that was temporarily lifted.

Vilma was one of four players suspended by Goodell in the bounty scandal. But an appeals panel earlier this month said Goodell must clarify his rulings to ensure no part of his decisions was based on salary cap violations. That would be the jurisdiction of special master Stephen Burbank.

Vilma, suspended for the entire season, requested a separate meeting.

"Today everyone was afforded an opportunity to start over," Vilma said outside the NFL's Park Avenue offices more than three hours after he went in. "It was in our best interest to meet today. We spoke truthfully, honestly, bluntly."

Vilma and attorney Peter Ginsberg did not want to share details of the meeting.

"We appreciate Jonathan Vilma taking the time to meet today and look forward to seeing the other players tomorrow," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Goodell must show that the basis for the discipline was inappropriate conduct - such as intent to injure - rather than any secret monetary compensation. In that case, he has full authority to impose the suspensions.

"I'm going to make sure the Commissioner realizes our position is consistent with the truth," Ginsberg said, reiterating that Jonathan never intended to hurt any players.

Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never intended to injure opposing players.
New Orleans defensive end Will Smith (four games), Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three) and free agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight) are expected to have their meeting Tuesday.

"We had a very frank, very truthful, very frank hearing," Vilma said. "We definitely had some communication today and that's, I guess, in everyone's best interest."

Smith played in each of the Saints' first two games and Vilma is on the physically unable to perform list. Fujita made his season debut in Cleveland's loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Hargrove was cut by Green Bay during the preseason.


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(huffingtonpost.com)
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Jonathan Vilma goes from victim to aggressor in bounty scandal

JonVilma
That Hurricane flag has gone so limp over the years.

The University of Miami holds the record for most players drafted in a single NFL first round (six), most over two years (11), most over three years (15) and most over four (19), but hasn’t had a single player taken in the first round in four years. That streak of a Hurricane scoring an NFL touchdown every week from 2002 to 2011, 149 consecutive football weeks, died quietly last year. Ray Lewis is getting old, man, so you need not have noticed the 50,000 or so unoccupied seats at the UM game Saturday to feel every bit that empty.

At least Jonathan Vilma is still proudly carrying that Hurricane flag, though. Last week, he planted it with attitude right in the center of his overzealous commissioner’s office.

Many years ago, back when he was just a college kid trying to find his voice, Vilma revealed a little bit about the strong man he would one day become. The conversation was about swagger. The Hurricane way, loud and obnoxious and overwhelming for so many years, is part of what attracted Vilma to the peacock-preening program. He was lured, as kids can be, to that rebellious hip-hop style of promising you a beat-down, delivering said beat-down, then reminding you loudly afterward that you had been beaten down.

But something interesting happened on the way to the throne. Vilma, as the brightest college kids are wont to do, grew up. Surrounded by the humble excellence of Andre Johnson and Ed Reed, Vilma realized, upon entering that champion huddle he helped shape, that he preferred a different style. He didn’t want to be a copycat rebel, loud and unoriginal, so this Hurricane decided he would be a quieter kind of storm.

Vilma was unusually mature for his age, book smart and street smart, and he said he wasn’t interested in winning the abrasive way those old Hurricanes did. He was intent on wrapping his violent fury in dignity and class. He valued his good name, and he has spent a decade in the pros preserving it, and damn if he’s going to let someone take it from him now in his waning football years without a very public fight … even if the guy trying to stain it is among the most powerful men in sports.

This is a long way of saying that football overlord Roger Goodell, in his zeal to make a very public point, trampled the wrong grown man.

The Saints bounty story has been one of the most overblown scandals in sports history — so loud only because Goodell chose to reveal it and then punish it with iron-fisted overindulgence, gift-wrapping the media an easy and noisy story in America’s most popular sport. Goodell, faced with the oxymoronic task of making a violent game safe, decided to scapegoat the Saints for something that was about as old as football. This, as the Ravens, in his unsafe league, play four games in 17 days to start this season, and Goodell himself works to expand the regular season to 18 games of profit. Goodell punished the Saints excessively as a symbolic statement because his concussed league now has a liability issue he is trying to eradicate as former players limp to the courtroom en masse.

If not for the heavy-handed punishments, and the media swirl it generated, almost every player in the league would shrug his shoulder pads at the spirit of what the Saints are alleged to have done. Former Dolphin Jason Taylor said last week that, if you change the wording from “bounty” to “big-hit pool” or “incentive pool,” you’d be able to prosecute just about every team in the league for what has stained the Saints. Goodell, so omnipotent for so long, making up the punishment rules on a whim, his employees complaining about his power but doing nothing to reduce it even while collectively bargaining during a lockout, thought he’d just be able to make a big, easy show of strength with Vilma, flexing his muscle about how he was cracking down on safety.

But, again, he picked on the wrong guy, suspending Vilma for a year for allegedly orchestrating the bounties without any proof anyone has seen. The Saints’ alleged leaders, the coaches, fled the league in disgrace without a fight. Vilma did no such thing, and won’t, and now he brings the fight to the commissioner, with the backing of an appeals board that reversed Goodell’s suspension. Vilma declined meetings with Goodell until last week, saying he wouldn’t get a fair hearing, but he went last week because Goodell has been forced to soften by the public shame brought by the appeals board.

Goodell very much wanted this bounty story in the news at the time he revealed it. That is no longer so. He’d like it to go away now, but Vilma refuses to make it easy. Vilma has forced fairness upon the commissioner and continues to apply pressure because he hasn’t accepted any of the league’s offers to reduce his penalty. Vilma declined to discuss this Saturday, saying he had to abide by judge’s orders, but one of his representatives said, “Jonathan could have accepted a reduction to eight games. It was offered. But he won’t accept guilt. He’ll pay any amount to clear his name. He says you can’t put a cost on fighting for your name and reputation.”

Those old Hurricane teams that lured Vilma to UM once upon a time loved to punch the bully in the mouth.

That flag isn’t what it was, not nearly, but it is good to see a few of those old strong guys still waving it.


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(miamiherald.com)
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Jonathan Vilma has Monday meeting with Goodell

JonVilma
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and his attorney, Peter Ginsberg, will meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on their own Monday afternoon, according to a league source.

Vilma, who made the choice and decision, originally had been scheduled to meet with Goodell on Tuesday.

The other three players alleged to have been involved in the Saints' bounty scandal still will meet with Goodell on Tuesday in New York, a source with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.

Vilma; Will Smith of the Saints; Scott Fujita, a former member of the Saints now with the Cleveland Browns; and Anthony Hargrove, a former Saints player who is a free agent, are facing possible renewed suspensions.

The original suspensions of those four players were vacated Friday by a three-member appeals panel. Vilma originally was suspended for the season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita for three games.

The NFL on Thursday issued a statement to clarify the ruling from the internal appeals panel under the collective bargaining agreement.

"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 league says. "The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority."

Ginsberg disagreed with the league's take.

"It is interesting and illuminating that it took the NFL almost one week to develop a publishable rationalization of the Appeals Board decision," Ginsberg said in a statement. "Contrary to the NFL's media statement, the Appeals Panel voided the suspensions -- it did not 'put the suspensions on hold,' as the NFL now pretends. And the Appeals Board is clearly based on the conclusion that the Commissioner overstepped his jurisdiction."

Vilma on Tuesday told ESPN's Ed Werder in a text message that he was expecting a fair hearing. Vilma walked out of a June 18 appeals hearing with Goodell, refusing to participate in what his attorney Peter Ginsberg described as a charade, and in August he requested a meeting with Goodell that he later canceled.

"I'm expecting a fair meeting, unlike the June 18 appeals hearing," Vilma said in the text. "We can all benefit from transparency regarding evidence and witnesses instead of using conjecture or hearsay to come to inaccurate conclusions. I look forward to getting this accomplished."

Ginsberg told ESPN on Tuesday that he has not been provided any assurances the league would allow the players and their legal representatives the opportunity to review evidence or cross-examine witnesses.

Those issues prompted Vilma to walk out previously.

"We want to see the evidence and confront the witnesses," Ginsberg said. "When the commissioner produces less than 1 percent of the evidence gathered in the investigation, it became abundantly clear we were not being offered a fair opportunity to present to him in a very strong and detailed manner what in fact took place and decided not to participate in what was clearly a charade."


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(espn.com)
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Vilma's attorney: League is wrong, suspension was 'voided'

JonVilma
The attorney for New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told USA TODAY Sports Thursday that he considers Commissioner Roger Goodell's season-long suspension of Vilma "voided'' by a three-member panel's ruling and he hopes to have Vilma exonerated and his NFL career restored in a Monday meeting with Goodell in New York.

"The accusations against Jonathan are not only erroneous but very, very difficult for Jonathan emotionally and personally,'' Peter Ginsberg said. "Our hope is that the commissioner, as he restarts the process, will take a fresh look at the evidence, listen to what Jonathan has to say and allow Jonathan to get back to living his life and playing the game he loves.''

Goodell made it clear with suspensions of Vilma and three other players -- Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), Cleveland Browns and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) and former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (eight games) -- that he was convinced the Saints ran an illegal bounty program from 2009-2011. Goodell believes the alleged pay-to-injure scheme endangered the safety of opponents as well as the integrity of the game.

The four suspensions were seemingly vacated by the three-member appeals panel last Friday, although there remains dispute over what that panel ruled.

Ginsberg disputes a Thursday statement by the league that the player suspensions were not overturned, but "put on hold'' until Goodell met individually with the players. Goodell was asked by the panel to rule on conduct detrimental to the game violations, rather than possible salary-cap infractions in connection with players being paid to injure opponents.

Ginsberg says the panel's inference was that Goodell overstepped his bounds.

"Right now there is no suspension,'' Ginsberg said. "The suspension was voided. I don't think there's any real dispute with what the appeals panel did. The opinion is short and clear.''

Not so, said Greg Aiello, spokesman for the league.

He said, in the statement, "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" 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.'"

He added: "The panel put the suspensions on hold.''

Vilma and Ginsberg walked out of a June 18 appeals hearing Ginsberg characterized as "a sham.''


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(courier-journal.com)
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Jonathan Vilma wanted to meet with NFL, court documents show

JonVilma
NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL filed court documents Friday showing that suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma initially agreed to a new hearing on the New Orleans Saints' "bounty" scandal with Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, before Vilma's lawyers and the players union talked him out of it.

The documents were filed in response to a federal judge's order asking the NFL Players Association to address possible conflicts of interests between union lawyers and three suspended players they represent: New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

The NFL did not take a position on the matter, but said it filed the documents about the scuttled Vilma hearing because the NFLPA provided information that was "neither accurate nor complete" when it filed arguments Thursday that there was no conflict.

Vilma has his own attorneys, but documents show the NFLPA discouraged all four suspended players from participating in any rehearing without certain conditions that the league refused to meet.

The NFL wanted the meeting to occur in the form of a new hearing in the bounty matter, with testimony entered on the record. Lawyers for Vilma and the union wanted it to occur in the form of confidential settlement discussions which could not be entered as evidence in any related lawsuits.

The documents show that Vilma wrote on Aug. 20 that he would meet with Goodell on Aug. 23, and that Vilma traveled to New York for the meeting before pulling out on the same day the meeting was scheduled.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan lamented the failure of settlement talks and wrote she was concerned there were competing agendas among lawyers on all sides in the dispute that were undermining the interests of the players.

The judge asked whether or not it made more sense for Smith, Fujita and Hargrove to have separate lawyers, rather than the same lawyers representing the NFLPA.

The players told the judge in documents filed Thursday that they were comfortable with union representation.

The NFLPA and the four players are claiming in their consolidated lawsuits that Goodell abused his authority and followed improper procedures in disciplining the players for a program that paid improper cash bonuses for tackles that injured opponents. The lawsuit seeks to have the punishment handed down by Goodell thrown out.

Vilma was suspended the entire 2012 regular season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita three games.

All four players have asked for a temporary restraining order that would allow them to rejoin their clubs while the case proceeds.

Berrigan has yet to rule on the TRO request, but could potentially do so before the Saints and Browns open the regular season Sunday.


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(nfl.com)
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Roger Goodell says he will meet with Vilma

JonVilma
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell plans to meet with four players who were allegedly involved in bounty-hunting, according to an ESPN.com report.

Goodell plans to meet with Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, but dates have not been set, according to the report.

Vilma's attorney said during an interview with ESPN his client is open to a meeting with Goodell as long as there's an opportunity to review the evidence and question witnesses.

According to the report, Peter Ginsberg intends to formally notify the league of his position Tuesday. Ginsberg was retained by Vilma after the Saints linebacker received a season-long suspension for his alleged role in the team's bounty scandal.

Vilma's suspension was overturned last week by an arbitration panel. He's currently on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

"I'm expecting a fair meeting, unlike the June 18 appeals hearing. We can all benefit from transparency regarding evidence and witnesses instead of using conjecture or hearsay to come to inaccurate conclusions. I look forward to getting this accomplished," Vilma told ESPN on Tuesday.

The issue of full disclosure of evidence and access to witnesses is a sticky one. The NFL presented it's case to a group of reporters last June with what it called "overwhelming evidence."

SI.com's Peter King summed up the presentation this way: "There's little doubt the aggrieved players will find a way to take action against the league for the sanctions. But now that the league has shared its case with the press—and, as a result, the public—it's not quite the slam-dunk case of negligence the players have charged."

The problem for Goodell is the arbitration panel's decision to overturn the player suspension in the case suggests the commissioner overstepped his authority or failed to ensure fairness in the process.


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(sportingnews.com)
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Saints put Jonathan Vilma on PUP

JonVilma
Even if New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension remains vacated, he won’t be able to play until after the sixth game of the season.

Vilma had his suspension overturned Friday and did not play in Sunday’s season opener. On Monday, the Saints placed Vilma on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

That’s no surprise. Vilma had knee issues last season and was rehabbing during the offseason program before his suspension first took hold.

Vilma is eligible to begin practicing after the sixth game and the Saints will have a three-week window to decide if they want to activate him on the 53-man roster.


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(espn.com)
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NFLPA asks judge to allow bounty players to return

JonVilma
The NFL Players Association has requested a temporary restraining order that would allow players involved with the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal to rejoin their teams for the opening week of the regular season.

If a federal judge accepts the request, affected players other than Jonathan Vilma would be able to rejoin their teams for regular-season openers. Vilma earlier had filed a similar motion.

The motion was filed Tuesday for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. It contends that the players will suffer irreparable harm if forced to miss games while they wait for their cases to be resolved.

All the players want their suspensions tossed because of what they feel was a disciplinary process.

U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan is hearing the case. She has previously said that she finds the league's handling of the situation unfair to the players and the punishments excessive, but she has also said she isn't yet comfortable that federal courts can rule on a process that was collectively bargained between the union and the league.

The NFL has claimed to have uncovered a scheme in which the Saints ran a bounty program from 2009 through 2011, in which defensive players were paid cash bonuses to for hits that injured opponents.

In addition to the four suspended players, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the season, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is now with St. Louis and allegedly administered the bounty, is suspended indefinitely.


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(chicagotribune.com)
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Jon Vilma could play if bounty scandal suspension temporarily lifted

JonVilma
METAIRIE — On Wednesday, interim coach Aaron Kromer left open the possibility of immediately utilizing defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma if they are successful in gaining a temporary restraining order for their alleged role in the Saints bounty scandal.

Kromer's announcement came one day after the NFL Players Association filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

Asked about their ability to play if the suspension was lifted, Kromer said, "I think those are two individual situations. Will Smith has been practicing all along until this week. I am sure he would be ready. Vilma, we’d just have to judge what kind of shape and what kind of knowledge he has of what’s going on."

Smith started his four-game suspension this week. Vilma, suspended for the entire 2012 season, has missed all of training camp and unlike Smith, who participated in training camp and played during the preseason, is likely not in game shape.


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(sunherald.com)
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