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Saints penalties only half the story; player sanctions to be contentious

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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The accusations have been leveled, the bounty claims investigated, the verdicts issued, the appeals denied. A part of one of the most sordid cases in NFL history is over. But only a part, because in many ways the case of the Saints and the bounties is just getting started.

Roger Goodell has closed the chapter on the coaching phase of this scandal, and now Sean Payton -- once maybe the most arrogant man in football -- has been chopped down to size by a fearless commissioner who has the gumption and power to do it.

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Goodell may not be able to change the bloody nature of the NFL, but he can make it more sport and less blood sport. Goodell's overall and sport-changing message: We're not in Rome anymore.

Good riddance, Gregg Williams. Sit down for a year, Payton. All the other Saints sycophants and suckups and excuse makers ... the appeals process is over. That beignet is fried and served.

But another storm is coming. And this battle will be even more interesting, and more fierce, than the one we just witnessed.

Several league sources believe that this week Goodell could announce sanctions against the Saints players involved in the bounties. The number who could be penalized is in the dozens. It could be a huge, sweeping action by Goodell, a Round 2 of Saints beatdown.

The union and NFL have been involved in secret negotiations to determine the penalty for players. Those talks continue, I'm told. Few will give explicit details of what's been happening, but I've been told the talks haven't gone particularly well. It's possible if Goodell suspends Saints players involved in the bounty scandal, the union will fight him.

That could change. The union and NFL could find a temporary truce and agree on what the discipline for the players could be, but that seems unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

What has mostly gone unnoticed by many is that the league and union have been engaged in a serious cold war since the lockout. The feelings of warmth and accomplishment are gone. There is massive distrust, and that has fueled some of the bickering during discussions between the NFL and union as both sides try to figure out player discipline in the Saints case.

Some of that distrust was embodied by a tweet from Jay Feely only minutes after Goodell's decision to uphold the suspensions was made public. Feely, a longtime and highly respected member of the union wrote: "the fact the appeals process in Saints case was determined by the same person who handed down the penalties is completely unjust."

He added: "Same with player appeals. Whether they are just or not the injustice of having same person decide penalties/appeals perverts process."

And that is the crux of what the union and NFL are fighting about now.

No, this isn't over. Far from it. The union has hired attorney Richard Smith as outside counsel. It's unclear what exactly his role will be, but he's a high profile and powerful legal figure. He's not being hired for his charm. Something big is at work.

Goodell's decision was the right one. The Saints owner, the general manager, the assistant coach and especially the head coach should know better. They're management. They are supposed to be like airbrakes in those moments of weakness and extremism.

Instead, Payton's arrogance doomed him, and now the Saints must pay.

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