Roger Goodell and the NFL simply cannot offer the type of settlement deal that is being discussed. The fallout from such an action would reverberate throughout the league and trickle down to the fans.
Honestly, the WWE would have more credibility as a legitimate enterprise.
ESPN's Ed Werder, Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen have reported that the NFL offered a settlement deal that would "reduce New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's year-long suspension to eight games" in exchange for Vilma dismissing "a civil lawsuit charging commissioner Roger Goodell with defamation of character."
League spokesman Greg Aiello has denied that any such deal has been offered and further stated: "[the NFL] will continue to respect the court proceedings on this matter and have no further comment at this time."
I hope for the league's sake that this is true. The reverberations of the NFL compromising on this matter will shake an already fragile foundation of distrust between the league brass and the players.
The offer as reported would beg the question of how much evidence Goodell had when he doled out the punishments. Vilma's lawsuit already alleges that the commissioner did not have the materials he claimed in making his decision, and shortening the suspension would essentially be an admission of such.
This would cause an irreparable rift between the current league regime and the NFLPA.
Drew Brees has already iterated the players' position that they do not trust Goodell. Imagine how they are going to react if they have their suspicions confirmed. Could the players decide to revolt until Goodell concedes his unilateral power? Probably not. But, considering the bad blood caused by last year's extended lockout, it's not outside the realm of possibility.
Suppose Vilma's suspension is cut in half. Won't every other affected person be entitled to the same concession?
If the argument for only cutting Vilma's time as opposed to everyone's is that the specific charge of $10,000 for Kurt Warner and/or Brett Favre was untrue, is anybody going to take the league at its word regarding the balance of the original accusations?
I doubt it.
And, what about all those players who have recently been suspended? Will they be quick to litigate a matter in order to force the commissioner to justify whether the punishment is proportional to the crime?
Sure, in matters that involve a DUI or some other confirmed offense, the evidence won't be an issue and a claim of defamation would be a stretch. But with the credibility of the league destroyed, lawyers could get creative to find loopholes to force similar deals.
Have you noticed how many question marks are used throughout this column? That's because the supposed deal would create more questions than answers.
The league has continued to experience growth despite difficult economic times and the threat of greed wiping out the entire 2011 season. Additionally, many fans lament the continued effort towards a safer game because violent hits are a draw for the NFL.
If it's possible to kill the golden goose, this deal will continue the NFL on a dangerous route towards shrinking popularity. Finding out the league's boss is manufacturing evidence or charges that ultimately affect the outcome of games will not sit well with a public that is continuously being priced out of the stadiums.
This isn't simply the resolution of a legal matter between two litigants. It's much larger than that. The integrity of the league is at stake.
Goodell hasn't been afraid to stare down challengers during his reign as top dog. Now isn't the time to soften that stance.