WASHINGTON — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to meet with the players whose bounty suspensions were temporarily lifted "as soon as possible."
Appearing at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Goodell noted Wednesday that the league "offered several times to have them come in as part of the hearing process, the CBA process, and I hope that they'll do that soon."
An appeals panel last week overturned the suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (2012 season) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) for their roles in the team's bounty program from 2009-11. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita got three games and DE Anthony Hargrove, now a free agent, got eight.
The appeals panel said Goodell must clarify his earlier rulings to ensure that no part of his decisions was based on salary cap violations. That would be the jurisdiction of special master Stephen Burbank.
Instead, 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, Goodell had full authority to impose the suspensions.
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.
Only Smith played on Sunday, when the Saints lost to Washington. Vilma was placed on the physically unable to perform list, while Fujita sat out Cleveland's loss to Philadelphia with a leg injury.