NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The agent for suspended defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove says the NFL has used semantics, but not hard evidence, as the basis for punishing current and former Saints players in its bounty investigation.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Sunday, on the eve of sanctioned players' appeal hearing, agent Phil Williams asked dozens of questions of the NFL, including whether league investigators made Hargrove a central figure in the bounty probe because his past drug suspensions made him an "easy target."
Williams also asked why the NFL released evidence strategically rather than sharing as much information as possible in a matter that has harmed players' reputations, and why the league made examples out of a select few players when many players around the league have taken part in performance pools.
"If these men have committed such grievous crimes that you have determined that their careers should be in danger and ... their names sullied, why be so secretive about the 'evidence' that you use to condemn them?" Williams' statement said. "Do you actually have any concrete evidence that any player from another team was injured as a result of a "bounty" and that a player from the Saints was therefore paid accordingly? ... Is it possible that the overwhelming majority of this pressing dilemma is about semantics?"
Hargrove, now with Green Bay, has been suspended eight games. Saints linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma was suspended the whole season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith was suspended four games and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was suspended three games.
All four players have appeal hearings scheduled before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statement by Hargrove's agent.
The Saints also have been punished harshly as an organization, including a full-season suspension of head coach Sean Payton. General manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games. The team also was fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks this year and next.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely. His former players have said Williams purposefully used nasty, violent language as a motivational tool, but that his speeches weren't meant to be taken literally.
On Friday afternoon, the NFL forwarded evidence to the four punished players, in line with a provision in the league's current labor agreement requiring evidence which will be presented at an appeal hearing to be shared three calendar days beforehand.