By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and four players whose suspensions in connection with the bounty investigation were recently lifted by an appeals panel have agreed to new meetings on the matter.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday no specific dates have been set for the meetings. An attorney for Saints LB Jonathan Vilma said his client hoped to meet with the commissioner by early next week.
The NFL Players Association, which is representing Saints DE Will Smith, Browns LB Scott Fujita and free-agent DL Anthony Hargrove, did not immediately comment.
Goodell is reconsidering whether to hand down revised suspensions for the four players who had been punished in an alleged pay-for-pain pool offering cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.
Ginsberg said Vilma's meeting would not be considered a hearing, but would be more akin to preliminary fact-finding meetings that occur at the outset of the disciplinary process outlined by the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"We expect to meet with commissioner Goodell and hopefully have a full, honest exchange of information and come to a just resolution," Ginsberg said.
He was not sure whether Vilma would meet with Goodell individually or at the same time as the other three players represented by the NFLPA.
The three-member panel that lifted the four players' suspensions on Friday did not permanently void them or address the merits of the bounty probe. Rather, it asked Goodell to start the disciplinary process over after ruling it was unclear whether he followed proper procedures in disciplining the players the first time.
It found that it was not clear whether part of Goodell's punishment stemmed from the money the players were found to have received. The panel said punishment relating to financial violations of the league Collective Bargaining Agreement must be heard by an arbitrator other than Goodell.
The panel also said Goodell can only serve as the arbitrator for punishments relating directly to some intent to injure opponents, which would be classified as conduct detrimental to the game.
Vilma and several current and former Saints teammates, as well as suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt, have already testified in a related federal case that the Saints operated only a performance pool for big plays and that no one ever intended to injure an opposing player.
Their testimony conflicted with the NFL's earlier findings that specific bounties were place on high-profile quarterbacks including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner in the 2009-10 playoffs.
Smith was able to return to action for the Saints' regular-season opener on Sunday, a 40-32 loss to the Redskins. He was the only of the four reinstated players who took the field. Fujita sat out after not practicing the week leading up to Cleveland's opening 17-16 loss to Philadelphia. Hargrove is not with a team and Vilma is still working his way back from offseason left knee surgery.
The Saints have placed Vlima on the physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning he cannot play at least through the first six games, even if he receives no new suspension.
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