The NFL Players Association this morning filed a grievance against the NFL that challenges commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority to suspend four players in connection with the Saints’ prohibited bounty program that allegedly ran from 2009-11.

Attorney Andrew Brandt, a former Packers’ front-office executive, said the union’s complaint charges that Goodell does not have the power to discipline players for conduct before the league’s new collective bargaining agreement was signed on Aug. 4, 2011. The union also contends that arbitrator Stephen Burbank, appointed by both the league and the union to hear disputes between the two parties, should be able to punish the players, not Goodell.

And if an appeal is to be heard, it should be heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, both of whom were appointed by the league and union to hear appeals for players’ conduct on the field.

As part of the CBA, the NFLPA agreed to give Goodell sole authority with regard to penalties of players for off-field conduct.

On Wednesday, Goodell suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season. Also sanctioned were former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (now with the Packers) for eight games, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games, and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) for three games.

Vilma and Smith deny the existence of a bounty program. Hargrove signed a sworn affidavit confirming there was a bounty program.

More football news