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NFLPA attorney: Saints suspensions not 'within the jurisdiction of commissioner'

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Despite setting themselves up for 10 years of labor peace, the NFL and NFLPA are back at war thanks to the recent suspensions involving the Saints bounty scandal. Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita recently and on Friday the NFLPA filed a pair of grievances against the league for the suspensions.

Jeffrey Kessler, the outside counsel for the NFLPA, told CBSSports.com that the NFLPA filed the grievances because Goodell acted outside of his jurisdiction and because the Saints were suspended for actions that occurred before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

"The first issue is that the union believes that a neutral arbitrator, known as the system arbitrator, who is Stephen Burbank a professor at Pennsylvania law school, is designated by the collective bargaining agreement to decide the type of issues presented by the so-called allegations of a bounty system," Kessler told CBSSports.com. "And therefore the Commissioner is not the correct authority to decide the discipline."

Additionally, the union believes that the NFL doesn't have the authority to punish players for conduct that occurred before the new CBA was put into place.

"The second arbitration, which is before a different arbitrator designated by the CBA, known as the grievance arbitrator, seeks a ruling that when the league entered into a new collective bargaining agreement in August 2011, it specifically agreed to release all players for any conduct prior to that time," Kessler said. "The result is no arbitrator -- no authority -- should be able to now seek penalties for 2009 and 2010."

The league's argument is that punishing the players falls under Article 46 of the new CBA. But there's a difficult classification of the Saints actions as on- or off-field behavior. However, Kessler said such a classification is irrelevant to the union's point.

"It's not a question of on-field or off-field," Kessler told CBSSports.com. "The alleged bounty actions are punishments for players as the league has said for having the receipt of payments outside of their player contracts. That issue is completely given over to the authority of Professor [Stephen] Burbank by the terms of the CBA. That's why he is the only person who can decide that because the league and the union agreed he could be the only person who could decide that.

"That's the problem with the league's position. It's not about on-field/off-field, it's about the conduct being punished, which is for payments, and it has nothing to do with the commissioner's authority. If the conduct being punished was for hits on the field, then that is given to a third set of arbitrators which is Art Shell and [Ted] Cotrell. And so, no matter which way you look at this, this is simply not something that was given that was given to the Commissioner to be ruled upon."

Obviously, Roger Goodell and the league disagree with that stance. They state in a statement released on Friday afternoon that the Commissioner is suspending the players for "conduct detrimental to the integrity and public confidence in the NFL."

So the arbitrator's decision will hinge on what area of NFL law he believes that the Saints players violated. Additionally, things could get murky when discussing what facts the union has received pertaining to the bounty punishments.

The NFL contends in its statement that the union's "proceedings do not challenge the underlying facts, which were first shared with the union more than two months ago." Per Kessler, the NFLPA feels entirely differently and doesn't believe that it's received substantial information relating to the bounty case and resulting suspensions.

"I believe the union has made clear that nobody has told the players of the unions what the underlying facts are," Kessler said. "We don't believe any real evidence has been given over."
 
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