Paul Tagliabue to Complete Bounty Hearings by Dec. 4

Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner, has informed league officials and players connected in the NFL’s bounty investigation that he plans to have all hearings completed by Dec. 4 and make a final ruling shortly thereafter.

The Associated Press obtained a document on Wednesday, which Tagliabue instructs the NFL to produce key witnesses in the New Orleans Saints’ cash-for-hits program, including former defensive coordinator assistant Mike Cerullo and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, free-agent linebacker Anthony Hargrove, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith were the only players initially suspended by current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but those penalties were later vacated. Tagliabue was shortly thereafter appointed to oversee the new hearings on Oct. 19.

Vilma was initially suspended for the entire 2012 season, Smith and Fujita for four games and Hargrove for five games.

There is a possibility that Tagliabue’s ruling may not come fast enough to have an impact based on the first ruling. U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Tagliabue laid out a schedule where Judge Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.

Vilma, Williams, Cerullo, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and NFL security officer Jeff Miller are the scheduled witnesses for now.

The five witnesses are schedule to appear in multiple hearings starting Nov. 27 and ending on Dec. 4 in Washington D.C. Smith and Vilma will likely be available to for the Saints’ next two games against San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.

Vilma has had a proactive role in the bounty proceedings. The NFL Players Association and Vilma’s lawyers were responsible for Goodell removing himself as the arbitrator in the bounty hearings. They felt that the commissioner could not be objective in the matter.

In a memo release by Tagliabue he said that other witnesses could be scheduled. He will decide if Cerullo’s personnel file could be introduced as evidence on Monday.

Cerullo has been accused by the players as being the NFL’s primary source of information about the Saints’ bounty program. They have argued that his credibility is suspect because the team fired after the 2009-10 season and accused the Saints of preventing him to get another job with another NFL coaching staff.

The players will continue to anticipate Tagliabue’s decision, but hope that Judge Berrigan can reach a fair ruling in their favor to cause interference in Tagliabue’s findings.

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