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NFLPA won't be satisfied until its 'Bountygate' investigation complete

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is hurt after taking a hit against the Saints in 2010. (Getty Images)  
Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is hurt after taking a hit against the Saints in 2010. (Getty Images)  

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- The NFL Players Association has a new president and executive committee. What it doesn't have is an idea when it will conclude its investigation into the New Orleans Saints and Bountygate.

People at this weekend's annual union meetings said they don't expect the inquiry to be completed sooner than next week ... and it could be longer, maybe much longer.

The NFLPA wants to talk to all persons involved in the scandal, including the 22 to 27 players who allegedly participated, before returning to commissioner Roger Goodell. It already interviewed some of those players, sources said, but it won't be satisfied until its investigation is complete -- and that will take time.

"We're trying to do our own investigation," said new president Domonique Foxworth, shortly after he was elected to succeed Kevin Mawae. "Obviously, we can't take a stand on something we don't have the facts on. We're doing a lot of interviews, and we're working on that." As Foxworth and tight end Ben Watson, named to the NFLPA's new executive committee, pointed out Sunday, the union is interested in getting things right before getting back to Goodell. While reports suggest the NFLPA would be opposed to suspensions of players involved, sources here disputed them -- saying the union could and would favor suspensions if it felt the punishments were justified.

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But that's where the element of time comes in.

The union will investigate the history of the Saints' program and how it was run. By now, most persons know that former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams operated the program, but the union is interested in players' involvement -- whether they were coerced into participating and whether they helped Williams run it.

"The important thing," said Watson, "is having the information and allowing both sides to do their due diligence to find out exactly what happened. None of us was there. So it's important not to jump to conclusions.

"As a player, you're taught certain rules of the game. With this specific case, we have to see what happened. We have to go through the investigation with a clear conscience and look at the facts."

According to the NFL, the Saints ran the program for three seasons, paying players to hurt opponents -- with four quarterbacks (Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton) specifically targeted. The league last week imposed historic penalties on the Saints and their coaches, suspending Sean Payton for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis for half a season and Williams indefinitely.

It did not rule out suspensions of players but said it would not make a recommendation until hearing from the union. Completing that inquiry will be one of Foxworth's first orders of business, and it's a daunting task. But it's not the only one. Others face him and the union in future months and weeks, and they will require as much ... if not more ... attention as Bountygate. Such as:

  HGH testing. The union continues to oppose the NFL's suggestion for immediate testing for human growth hormone, rejecting the World Anti-Doping Agency's process as a fair standard. "We haven't found a process that's fair for everybody," said Watson. "We, as players, don't have anything to hide, but it has to be fair and it has to be administered in the right way. Obviously, there have been discussions about HGH and there will continue to be until we get a point where we agree on how it's to be done.

  An 18-game schedule. A year ago, players said they were opposed to the idea, and Foxworth insisted nothing has changed -- even though there's a widespread feeling that an expanded regular-season schedule is inevitable. "Nothing's inevitable," he said. "Health and safety is paramount with us, and it's impossible for anyone to make a case that 18 games makes us any healthier or safer."

  The Washington/Dallas salary-cap episode. This one doesn't affect the union ... except it could. The NFLPA signed off on a deal that penalized Washington and Dallas $46 million in cap room over the next two years to keep the salary cap at $120.6 million. With the Redskins and Cowboys filing a complaint against the league, there's the possibility that the union could launch a lawsuit charging collusion -- only this time piggybacking legal action filed by two of the NFL's member teams.

None of this overwhelms Foxworth, nor should it. He was part of the union's negotiating team during last year's lockout, and he helped broker the deal. What he learned then should help NFLPA through its next ordeal, and look no farther than New Orleans ... or HGH testing ... or Washington ... or Dallas ...

"The most immediate challenge for the players," Foxworth said, "is to maintain a healthy wariness. We can be potentially lulled into a sense of security because we have such a long time of "labor peace' -- because it's never completely peaceful -- and the same vigor we approach the lockout with should be the same approach with whatever gains that we're looking to gain in the future -- whether it’s against the league or it's just against ourselves in certain cases. We need to attack the issues that are challenging us with the same enthusiasm."

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