NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge has all but ruled out any prospects for a settlement in the case of four NFL players challenging their bounty suspensions.
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan issued an order Wednesday in which she lamented the failure of settlement talks, then asked for more filings pertaining to the players' request for a temporary restraining order that would allow them to return to their teams while their case against the NFL proceeds.
Berrigan wrote that she believes the four players' interests have been undermined by "longstanding acrimony among all of the attorneys representing all of the parties that predates these disputes."
Her comments were an apparent allusion to rivalries between representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association which date back to previous disagreements including the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that came together only after a bitter, several-month lockout.
Berrigan wrote that she found the failure of settlement talks "extremely disappointing" because she believed "they would likely have resulted in some relief for all four (of) the players."
The judge also mentioned that she believes all sides have competing agendas, leaving her concerned about a possible conflict of interest for three players who are represented by the same lawyers representing the NFLPA.
Hoping to resolve those concerns, the judge asked the NFLPA, New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to file papers by Thursday explaining why the players and the union do not need separate lawyers.
The judge also ordered the league to file by Thursday its response to the NFLPA's request earlier this week for a temporary restraining order on behalf of Smith, Fujita and Hargrove.
The league has until Friday to respond to the players' and union's positions on potential conflicts of interest.
While the judge did not indicate when she might rule, most NFL teams, including the Saints and Browns, open the regular season on Sunday.
Smith has been suspended four games, Fujita three and Hargrove eight.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended the entire season, has his own attorney and asked for temporary restraining order in July. Berrigan's order on Wednesday did not pertain to Vilma beyond her comments criticizing all lawyers for their inability to have productive settlement talks.
The NFL has said its investigators have concluded that the Saints ran a bounty program from the 2009 through 2011 seasons. The league said the program offered improper cash bonuses to defensive players for hits that injured opponents. The league punished Vilma, Smith and Fujita because they were leaders of the Saints defense and Hargrove because they concluded he did not cooperate fully with investigators who asked him about the bounty program.
The players have admitted to a pay-for-performance program for big plays such as turnovers and big, clean hits, which also is banned but cannot be punished by suspensions. However, they have denied, some under oath in federal court, that there was a pay-to-injure program.