Union appeals Saints bounty suspensions

Anthony Hargrove (69) of the New Orleans Saints addresses his teammates prior to playing against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

(AP) NEW YORK - The NFL Players Association filed a grievance challenging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to suspend four current and former New Orleans players who took part in the Saints' bounty program from 2009-11.

The complaint, filed Thursday night, claims that 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.

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.

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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 until Monday to appeal, and Vilma and Smith have already said they plan to do so.

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