The NFL Players Association wants to remove Roger Goodell from the process when four players file appeals of their suspensions for the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.
The union filed a grievance late Thursday challenging the NFL commissioner's authority to suspend the current and former New Orleans players who took part in the bounties from 2009-11.
The complaint claims Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any aspect of a pay-for-hits program occurring before the new collective bargaining agreement was signed last August. It argues that a CBA system arbitrator, not Goodell, has the responsibility to decide on player punishment under such circumstances, as well as rule on any appeals.
In a document obtained by The Associated Press, the union wrote to the league that Goodell "released all players from conduct engaged in prior to execution of the CBA."
"Thus," the union continued, "even assuming for the sake of argument that the commissioner had the authority to punish players for conduct detrimental under the alleged facts and circumstances of this particular situation — he does not — he nevertheless would be prohibited from punishing NFL players for any aspect of the alleged 'pay-for-performance/bounty' conduct occurring before Aug. 4, 2011."
Earlier this week, Goodell suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season; defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, for eight games; defensive end Will Smith, for four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, for three games.
The union contends that the suspensions violate the league's "duty of fairness to players," and that the process "violated various procedural requirements of the collective bargaining agreement, including limits of Goodell's authority over the matter and failure to disclose sufficient evidence of the violations."
The league said its investigation showed "a significant number of players participated" in the bounty system — by ponying up cash or collecting it — but noted that "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level." The league said anywhere from 22 to 27 Saints players took part in the bounty program.
The suspended players have not yet filed appeals, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday. They have until Monday to appeal, and Vilma and Smith have already said they plan to do so.
The union letter insisted the NFL must begin proceedings before arbitrator Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and that Burbank "would ultimately determine whether and to what extent the players should be punished."
Even if the arbitrator finds that Goodell has the authority to hand out the punishment, the union wrote that appeals for on-field behavior should be heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, not Goodell. Shell and Cottrell are employed by both the NFL and the NFLPA as independent hearing officers when players are fined or suspended for flagrant hits during games.
The union also urged an expedited hearing of its grievance before another arbitrator, Shyam Das, on May 16.