Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials Monday for about three hours to discuss his bounty-related suspension that recently was lifted by an appeals panel.
The meeting was described by Vilma as "very frank, very truthful" after he left the league's New York-based headquarters late Monday afternoon. Vilma had been suspended for the entire 2012 season for what the NFL alleged was a three-year bounty program run by the team. But Vilma and three other players had their suspensions vacated 11 days ago by a panel that ruled that Goodell needed to specify whether the punishment was for conduct detrimental to the league or for salary-cap violations because the players took unauthorized payments.
In accordance with the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement, Goodell is meeting with Vilma and the three others: former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, who now plays for the Browns; former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who was released by the Packers, and Saints defensive end Will Smith. Goodell then will decide whether to re-impose punishment. Fujita, Smith and Hargrove are scheduled to meet with him Tuesday.
The NFL has alleged that Vilma offered $10,000 to any Saints player who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game after the 2010 season. Vilma has denied that allegation. ESPN reported that the league presented a sworn affidavit from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that said Vilma offered the payment.
Williams, who admitted organizing the bounty program, has been suspended indefinitely. Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season and general manager Mickey Loomis received an eight-game suspension. Interim head coach Joe Vitt is serving a six-game suspension.
Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman said Monday night that he obtained a copy of Williams' statement, which included an admission that he ran the prohibited bounty program. "While I understand the pool payments were prohibited by NFL rules, they weren't intended to reward on-field misconduct," Williams wrote, according to Feldman. "The purpose of the pool as I designed it was to reward plays that helped achieve what the team was trying to achieve. It was my view and my intention that we were only encouraging clean, aggressive hits within the rules of the NFL. I now understand it's possible that [the pool] could encourage players to injure other players and should not be part of the game."
"We appreciate Jonathan Vilma taking the time to meet today and looking forward to seeing the other players tomorrow," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement Monday.