NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The NFL filed court documents Friday indicating suspended Saints linebacker Jon Vilma initially agreed to a new bounty hearing with Commissioner Roger Goodell last month before Vilma's lawyers and the players union talked him out of it.
The documents were filed in a federal court case that is separate from a ruling by a three-member NFL appeal panel that vacated the bounty suspensions of Vilma and three other players: New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.
The players are currently reinstated and can play this weekend, but the federal case, while effectively on hold because of the panel's decision, is not likely to go away soon. Goodell retains the right to hand down new, refined punishments pertaining to the league's nearly three-year investigation of the Saints.
If the players believe the new sanctions are unfair, they could push for their federal case to proceed.
The documents filed in court Friday came in response to a judge's order asking the NFL Players Association to address possible conflicts of interests between union lawyers and three suspended players they represent: Smith, Fujita and Hargrove.
The NFL did not take a position on the matter, but said it filed the documents about the scuttled Vilma hearing because the NFLPA provided information that was "neither accurate nor complete" when it submitted arguments on Thursday asserting there was no conflict of interest.
Vilma has his own attorneys, but documents show the NFLPA discouraged all four suspended players from participating in any rehearing without certain conditions which the league refused to meet.
The NFL wanted the meeting to occur in the form of a new hearing in the bounty matter, with testimony entered on the record. Lawyers for Vilma and the union wanted it to occur in the form of confidential settlement discussions which could not be entered as evidence in any related lawsuits.
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