Players lash out at bounty discipline

BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer Published:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and the NFL players union left little doubt they remain determined to challenge Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to suspend players in connection with the league's bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints.

Goodell ruled Tuesday that Vilma, a linebacker, would remain suspended for the season, while Smith, a defensive end, still would face a four-game ban. The two players, among four who've been wrangling for months with the league, scoffed at the commissioner's latest decision.

Vilma said on Twitter that the new ruling "is not news to me pride won't let him admit he's wrong." Smith issued a statement saying he will continue to explore his appeal options.

Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said in a statement that Goodell's new ruling "continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the 'evidence.' What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just. The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole."

The stakes are now somewhat lower for defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita. Hargrove's suspension effectively stands at two games after Goodell reduced his eight-game ban to seven and gave him credit for five games missed while he was a free agent. Goodell lowered Fujita's suspension from three games to one.

Hargrove and Fujita did not respond to requests for comment, but the NFL Players Association, which has been representing them, remained critical of Goodell's decision to punish the players and the process by which he reached his decisions.

"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever," the said in a written statement. "The only evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake."

The players were implicated in what the NFL said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. The players have acknowledged a pool, but denied they intended to injure anyone.

Williams, now with St. Louis, has been suspended indefinitely. Saints head coach Sean Payton is serving a full season suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis is suspended eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six. The Saints, a playoff team the past three seasons, have opened this season 1-4.

The initial player suspensions were vacated during Week 1 of the regular season by an appeal panel created by the league's labor agreement.

The players can delay their new suspensions by appealing again through their labor contract. They could also ask a federal judge in New Orleans to revisit their earlier request for an injunction blocking the suspensions.

Goodell, meanwhile, stood by the substance of the investigation that began three years ago.

"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental (to the game) are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available," Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.

Cushing done for the season

HOUSTON -- Linebacker Brian Cushing is out for the season with a torn left knee ligament, leaving the unbeaten Houston Texans without their top tackler and one of their emotional leaders.

Cushing was hurt in the second quarter of the Texans' 23-17 win over the New York Jets on a low block by guard Matt Slauson. Cushing walked off the field on his own, but didn't return.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday that Cushing has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will need surgery in two to three weeks, after the swelling subsides. Cushing was leading Houston in tackles (38) before Monday night's game.

The Texans (5-0) play Green Bay (2-3) in Houston on Sunday night.

Lions getting healthier

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Louis Delmas and Cliff Avril were on the practice field, looking healthy after a much-needed open date for the Detroit Lions.

Jahvid Best still can't play, but he's at least eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list next week.

The Lions are on the mend -- physically, at least. It remains to be seen whether they can improve on their 1-3 start this weekend at Philadelphia.

Delmas hasn't played yet this season while recovering from left knee surgery, but the defensive back has been practicing lately and could give a boost to Detroit's secondary. Avril had to leave the Lions' loss to Minnesota two weekends ago because of a back problem, but he too seems fine now.

Not everyone is at full strength. Corey Williams, who is coming off knee surgery, stood off the to the side at the start of practice Tuesday. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew wasn't on the field at all during the portion open to reporters.

Coach Jim Schwartz didn't elaborate on Pettigrew's condition other than to say he's day to day.

Struggling Cundiff released

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins released struggling kicker Billy Cundiff on Tuesday and replaced him with free agent Kai Forbath.

Forbath emerged as the winner in a tryout at Redskins Park. He won the Lou Groza Award with UCLA in 2009 as the top kicker in college football, but he has yet to play in the NFL.

Cundiff was signed late in preseason after he was waived by the Baltimore Ravens. He has been the worst kicker in the league this year, making only seven of 12 field goal attempts. Two of his misses have been from inside 40 yards, including a 31-yard misfire in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Forbath was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys last year and spent the entire season on the non-football injured reserve list. He spent this year's training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and made all five field goal attempts in preseason games before being released on Aug. 31.

The Redskins also signed linebacker Mario Addison from the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad and released linebacker Markus White.

Flags becoming a problem

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin might be a perfectionist, but he's a realist too.

The Pittsburgh Steelers coach knows penalties are going to happen. He can tolerate mistakes -- to a point anyway -- and makes no excuses when he sees the flag fly.

It's just that he'd prefer not to see the yellow hankies in flight so often, which at the moment seems to be nearly all the time.

The Steelers (2-2), who have long prided themselves on their discipline, are playing like a team that doesn't have much. Pittsburgh leads the NFL in penalties per game (9.2) and penalty yards per game (86.5) and is on pace to shatter team records in both categories.

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