Because of Tagliabue's insistence that the contents of the appeals process remain private, all of the hearings have been behind closed doors in private law offices.
Goodell issued the initial suspensions, which also included a full-season ban for Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Lawsuits brought by Vilma and the NFL Players Association to challenge Goodell's handling of the case, including his decision in October to appoint Tagliabue as the arbitrator for the appeals, are pending in federal court in New Orleans.
Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan gave the parties until Monday to answer questions about whether the NFL's collective bargaining agreement prevents a commissioner from handing out discipline for legal contact, and whether the CBA's passages about detrimental conduct are "ambiguous, hence unenforceable."
Players and coaches testified in court that the Saints defense's performance pool rewarded only legal hits, and the judge said she was inclined to presume that testimony was accurate because it went unchallenged in court by the league.
Responding to the judge's request in a brief filed Monday around noon, the NFL Players Association argued the league's labor agreement does not give the commissioner authority to punish players for legal hits. The union added that if Tagliabue interprets the agreement otherwise, the provisions pertaining to the commissioner's authority in the CBA would be so vague as to be unenforceable.
In its response, the NFL said players were not punished for on-field actions. The league said the players' suspensions resulted from meeting or locker room pledges, rewarding injury-causing hits and lying to NFL investigators about the incentive pool.
In March, the NFL announced that its investigation showed the Saints put together a bounty pool of up to $50,000 to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opponents. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000 — with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs, the league said.
According to the league, the pay-for-pain program was administered by Williams, with Payton's knowledge. At the time, Williams apologized for his role, saying: "It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it."
Later that month, Payton became the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, while Williams was suspended indefinitely.
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