Remember when the league first broke the "bounty" story and claimed to have 50,000 pages of evidence? Seems like years ago, right? MIke Florio reports that what the league revealed to the players and their lawyers today amounts to less than 200 pages.
At roughly 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday, the NFL delivered by courier to the NFLPA the information on which the league plans to rely at Monday’s appeal hearings as to suspensions imposed on Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.
From a much-ballyhooed 50,000-page file (which by its sheer volume presumably means that there was a bounty system, right?), the NFL surrendered, we’re told, fewer than 200 pages of information, arising from 16 total documents, which includes among other things handwritten notes, the email from Mike Ornstein containing the reference to the alleged $5,000 bounty on Aaron Rodgers, and seven different Power Point presentations shown by Saints coaches to players.
Make the jump for more laughable details. You won't believe what the league is claiming as "evidence."
Surprisingly, the "evidence" produced by the NFL includes things that clearly aren’t evidence. For example, the league’s submission includes the rambling 10,000-plus word online manifesto posted on May 31 by Sean Pamphilon, and a June 6 article by Mike Triplette of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, in which he interviews linebacker Scott Shanle.
Per a source familiar with the information produced by the NFL, the packet contains no obvious smoking gun. "It’s a water gun," the source said.
Really? The Pamphilon rant is evidence? How can this May 31st internet post and a June 6th Shanle interview be used as evidence to justify suspensions and punishments doled out weeks before? This is beyond being a joke! Please tell me I'm in some horrible episode of the Twilight Zone. Florio continues:
That said, the source cautioned that review of the materials is ongoing. Initial scrutiny of the information reveals evidence of salary cap violations, but it includes no evidence of players being paid to inflict injury, players paying others to inflict injury, or players offering money to others to inflict injury. For example, the NFLPA has yet to locate in the packet any evidence establishing that linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who inflicted injury on Brett Favre or Kurt Warner during the 2009 playoffs.
Perhaps most significantly, the submission doesn’t include the bounty ledger about which Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported a couple of weeks ago.
So, no bounty ledger? Really?
The source said that the package of information also contains no list of witnesses to be called by the NFL, which reinforces the perception that Commissioner Roger Goodell will simply give the players the opportunity to explain their side of the story.
So, no witnesses and no bounty ledger? Florio suggests that Vilma may not proceed with the appeal for lack of evidence.
With such a limited compilation of evidence and no apparent plan to call witnesses — and no likely inclination to make witnesses available to be questioned by the players — it wouldn’t surprise us if linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has sued Commissioner Roger Goodell, refuses to proceed. Or if, at a minimum, Vilma refuses to say anything until the NFL produces real evidence showing that Vilma offered money for injury to be inflicted on another player.
So, this is all there is? It may appear that the evidence doesn't support Goodell's suspensions and some may see a glimmer of hope that all punishments (including those for the coaches & Loomis) may be reduced. I wouldn't count on it. Goodell obviously lives in an alternate universe where his word is law. Despite the league's flimsy "evidence," I don't expect him to budge an inch. The league has made this into a huge story and can't afford to back down now.
If Goodell reduces the player suspensions by even a hair, he'll then be bombarded with questions as to the fairness of the draconian punishments imposed earlier on Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt, and Gregg Williams. It will open up a huge can of worms that Goodell would rather not deal with. Expect Goodell to say Monday after he denies the player appeals, "What? This is our evidence and we're sticking with it. Something terrible was going on here just like we say. We take player safety very seriously. How dare you question me!"
That said, once the appeals are denied, the players and union will probably have a strong case in court. This won't be over by a long shot.