NEW YORK — A second arbitrator ruled Friday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline Saints players for their roles in a bounty program.
The players’ union claimed Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any conduct before the CBA was signed last August. The union also sought to have player appeals heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, who are jointly appointed by the league and union to review discipline handed out for on-field conduct.
But arbitrator Shyam Das ruled Friday that Goodell is entitled to hand out the punishment and hear any appeals in the matter. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled the same way Monday in a different grievance claim brought by the NFLPA, and the union said it would appeal.
Goodell suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and defensive end Will Smith for four games. Former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended for eight games, while linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was docked three games.
All four players appealed, and the league has set June 18 as the hearing date.
Das dismissed the grievance, saying Goodell did not relinquish authority to impose discipline for conduct detrimental to the game that occurred before the CBA was signed last August.
Vilma also has sued Goodell for defamation in a U.S. District Court in New Orleans and Goodell has been given until July 5 to respond to the action.
SAINTS HIRE FREEH’S FIRM TO CONDUCT INTERNAL PROBE: In Metairie , the New Orleans Saints have hired a firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct an internal investigation of the NFL club with the aim of getting to the bottom of allegations ranging from wire-tapping during games in the Superdome to the bounty scandal.
“Serious allegations have been made about our organization this offseason; we take these allegations very seriously,” Saints spokesman Greg Bensel wrote in an email.
Bensel said the hiring of the Freeh Group, first reported Friday by NBC’s Pro Football Talk, is part of Benson’s effort “to leave no stone unturned.”
Benson “has spared no expense to get to the bottom of these allegations,” Bensel said. “We have given the Freeh Group complete access to our team and all of the individuals who have been associated with” the alleged wrongdoing.
The Freeh Group’s initial focus is expected to be on wire-tapping allegations currently under investigation jointly by the Louisiana state police and the FBI.
Those allegations, which the Saints have vociferously denied, first surfaced in a report by ESPN that cited anonymous sources. The report stated that general manager Mickey Loomis had the ability to eavesdrop on opposing coaches’ radio communications from his box on the Superdome press level during games between 2002 and 2004. The Saints have labeled the allegations “ludicrous” and “1,000 percent false.”
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson has said the joint investigation was to see if there was any substance to allegations of activities that could have violated state and federal wire-tapping laws. Authorities have yet to release any findings.
GRONKOWSKI GETS $54 MILLION DEAL: In New York, All-Pro Rob Gronkowski has agreed to a $54 million deal with the New England Patriots, the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history.
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