Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma wasted no time issuing statements separately at the news of their suspensions, making it known they denied the claims made against them (which aren’t entirely clear) and that they were ready to pursue every avenue possible to fight these suspensions they deemed unfair. My level of pessimism on how this will play out is fairly elevated and my advice to Saints fans: don’t hold your breath. The reality of this situation, much like in the Payton/Loomis/Williams/Vitt suspensions that preeceded these, is that Roger Goodell has ultimate and complete authority. In this case it’s even more pronounced because that’s what the players agreed to in the new CBA. Vilma/Smith and the NFLPA don’t really have any grounds to question Goodell’s rulings because the CBA they signed gives him the power to do exactly what he did. So sure, they can threaten lawsuits, but I can’t imagine their lawyers are going to come up with many loopholes on this one. The appeals process, once again, is heard and ruled on by Goodell. Regardless of what defense Vilma and Smith come up with, it seems pretty likely the suspensions will be upheld. I just don’t see any way around the process changing, or Goodell changing his mind. So yeah, people are pissed and more high ups are coming to the defense of the Saints’ players in this scandal (unlike with Coach Payton), but ultimately this all boils down to it being Roger Goodell’s decision, and he’s clearly made up his mind.
The interesting twist to this story is that…
it’s becoming more clear Roger Goodell is using this scandal to further an agenda related to player safety. The owners and Goodell have been pushing hard to get 18 games, which ultimately would mean more money for the league. The NFLPA has adamantly refused this proposal based on the fact that many players can’t make it through 16 games and the injury problems would continue to grow. So now Goodell has the NFLPA in a bit of a hypocritical position and he’s using it to his full advantage. By defending Vilma and Will Smith, Goodell is angling for the accusation that the NFLPA is clearly not concerned about player safety if they are defending players that intentionally tried to hurt other players. While this move is shady at best, it furthers his cause to push for 18 games by making him look like he’s the true player safety crusader. Of course, that doesn’t really make any sense either because more games means more injuries. But if you think about it, this all comes down to money. If Goodell can prove he’s made the game safer by dealing with bounty gate very swiftly and harshly, he furthers his cause in lobbying for 18 games. If there’s less injuries because the game is “safer”, then 18 games in a “safe” NFL is more viable for players than 16 games in “what was”. Meanwhile, by the NFLPA defending Smith and Vilma, Goodell will push to suggest he has the player’s interest more at heart than the NFLPA’s reps. So in short, this whole situation is tougher on the Saints because Roger Goodell is the lone individual making the decisions, and the bottom line of his business stands to gain from him being harder on the Saints.
When you look at it that way, to me, the situation is pretty unfair. Goodell’s motivation may be player safety, but is financial as well, and he’s using both in making these rulings. Another way to phrase it: he’s partially influenced by greed. But it’s also the situation the NFLPA and the players got themselves in by allowing Goodell to rule autonomously on items like this. So bounty gate and other player issues in the future will continue to be at the mercy of Goodell and his motivating agenda until, at soonest, a new CBA. So this is just more CBA standstill items from last summer being debated over, really, and Goodell is using this situation and the power he’s been given to give his preference more merit.
So no, Vilma doesn’t deserve a year suspension. A year is ridiculous. But Goodell doesn’t care, and Goodell is the one that decides. Right, wrong or indifferent. It must be nice to play God. But we all know in New Orleans as well as anywhere that karma has a weird way of getting back at you. In fact, the Saints are experiencing that very thing now. But Roger Goodell’s behavior in this scandal hasn’t been entirely innocent either. He’s not handling this as professionally as he should, not by a long shot.