Ahhh memories

The NFL was a dreary, desolate place a year ago. Sure, the league is always a ghost town in May, one of the few true dog day months in the football calendar when very little happens, and we’re forced to drool over mini camps, and players who look awesome in shorts months before training camp even starts.

Last year, though, was different, and a league-wide shut down led to months of bickering during a divisive lockout squabble that made fans hate either the players, the owners, or worse, the league. We all knew the minds in those negotiating rooms were far too intelligent to allow any meaningful football to be lost, and indeed that was the case. Mercifully, in early August labor peace arrived, and a new collective bargaining agreement was signed.

Ahhh memories. Sweet, blissful memories. We’re nine months into a 10-year agreement, and the bickering has started anew. Thanks again, bounty debacle.

Earlier this morning the NFLPA formally filed two grievances against the league on behalf of the four Saints players who were suspended by Roger Goodell as a result of bountygate. In effect, the first grievance is an effort to rip the disciplinary process in this case out of Goodell’s hands, the same hands that morphed into hammers to crush the Saints.

As NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora writes, Goodell’s authority is at the root of the grievance, along with the still lingering failure to disclose concrete evidence.

The union states that “the process violated various procedural requirements of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, including limits on Goodell’s authority over the matter and failure to disclosure sufficient evidence of the violations”.

The union’s system arbitration alleges that the authority for punishments for pay-for-performance programs similar to those in the “bounty” case does not rest with Goodell but with the system arbitrator, according to the current collective bargaining agreement.

And as PFT’s Mike Florio notes, the authority to issue punishments as it relates to any intent to injure opposing players lies with Ted Cottrell and Art Shell, who were jointly appointed. Specifically, the grievance says that Cottrell and Shell will handle any punishments for “conduct on the playing field with respect to an opposing player or players.”

My legal knowledge ends at a high school class in which I finished with a well-earned B+, but I’m capable of reading, and it certainly sounds like the fate of Jonathan Vilma et al was out of Goodell’s jurisdiction. The second grievance states that any allegations regarding payments made to players outside of their own contracts is also out of Goodell’s hands, and instead falls within the job description of Special Master Stephen Burbank, a role that’s again dictated by the CBA.

So we sit at a stalemate in a battle for power, at least temporarily. Sound familiar? While the genesis of these grievances are the punishments given to the four Saints players, the fight extends beyond them. This is a question of who controls Goodell’s kingdom, and if it is indeed his kingdom at all.

It’s always been odd and more than a little troubling that the same man who makes the rulings on player punishments also hears the appeals on said rulings. That seems quite backwards and biased.

But although the appeals systems may need to be re-worked, there’s a process prior to that in which players can have a meeting with Goodell to discuss their case. Vilma had a meeting scheduled and then backed out, while every other player declined.

Instead of being civil, the players always had the courtroom in mind.