NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, to hear the appeals of four players suspended in connection with the Saints' alleged bounty program that ran from 2009-11.
Goodell said Friday that he has informed Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove that Tagliabue, who retired in 2006, will be the one to "decide the appeals and bring the matter to a prompt and fair conclusion."
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Tagliabue will hear the appeals on Oct. 30. Goodell held an appeals hearing for the players last week and adjusted some of the punishments. Vilma has been suspended for the 2012 season but is permitted to play until the appeals hearing is completed. He also is allowed to collect salary earned after a three-judge appeals panel temporarily vacated Goodell's original one-year suspension because of confusion over whether the suspension was for conduct detrimental to the league or for salary- cap violations. Vilma also is suing Goodell for defamation.
Fujita, now a Browns linebacker, had his suspension reduced from three games to one. Smith was banned for four games and Hargrove, currently out of the league, had his suspension reduced from eight games to seven. If Hargrove signs with another team, he must sit out two games.
"I have held two hearings to date and have modified the discipline in several respects based on my recent meetings with the players," Goodell said. "I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions. 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."
Tagliabue succeeded Pete Rozelle as commissioner in 1989 and spent 17 years as the league's chief executive. Goodell replaced Tagliabue in 2006.
Goodell said he has not briefed Tagliabue on the bounty situation and expects a fair resolution of the appeals process. The NFL Players Association and the four players had asked that Goodell recuse himself from the appeal because they felt he could not make an impartial decision.
Goodell said he consulted with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith before asking Tagliabue to hear the appeals. Goodell has infrequently appointed others to hear appeals for club fines, personal conduct suspensions and for drug and steroid issues.
Meanwhile, former Vikings defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy ripped the NFL for linking him to the bounty scandal. He issued a statement through the NFLPA on Friday that detailed his anger over being called a witness to the alleged bounty program.
The NFL said last week that he had informed league investigators that he told former Vikings coach Brad Childress that the Saints had a bounty on former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2008 NFC Championship Game.