Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to complete all hearings in the NFL’s bounty probe of the Saints by Dec. 4 and make a ruling shortly after.
Such timing potentially could be disruptive for the Saints, who could lose starting defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma while trying to claw back into playoff contention.
In a document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Tagliabue directs the NFL to produce key witnesses in the New Orleans Saints’ cash-for-hits program, including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.
Four players initially were suspended, but those punishments were vacated. Commissioner Roger Goodell reissued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Vilma and Smith are still playing pending the outcomes of their appeals.
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Smith said he was pleased with Tagliabue’s decision to hold the NFL responsible for producing witnesses who helped with the league’s investigation.
“The most important thing is that Gregg Williams and those other guys are going to have to testify and be cross-examined,” Smith said. “We’ll see if their story stays the same.”
Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.
For now, only Williams, Cerullo, Vilma, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, and NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller are the only scheduled witnesses.
They are scheduled to appear in a series of hearings in Washington, D.C., running from Tuesday through Dec. 4. That means Vilma and Smith likely will be available at least for the Saints’ next two games against San Francisco on Sunday and at Atlanta on Nov. 29. They could also play at the New York Giants on Dec. 9.
None of the players have served a game of their suspensions yet, though Vilma was barred from attending Saints training camp before Goodell’s initial rulings were vacated in September.
Vilma initially was suspended the entire 2012 season and Smith for four games.
The two other players punished are former Saints: Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, who is now on injured reserve, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a former Seahawks player.
SEASON OVER FOR JAGS’ GABBERT, ROBINSON
The Jacksonville Jaguars put quarterback Blaine Gabbert and receiver Laurent Robinson on injured reserve, ending their season.
Gabbert hurt his right forearm in Sunday’s loss at Houston. Chad Henne replaced him and threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns.
Gabbert also has a torn labrum in his left shoulder that needs surgery. The Jaguars (1-9) figured it would be better to have surgery done now.
Nonetheless, coach Mike Mularkey made it clear Monday he was going to start Henne against Tennessee on Sunday based on his performance — not because of Gabbert’s injury.
BRONCOS LOSE MCGAHEE
Denver’s top running back, Willis McGahee, has been put on recallable injured reserve after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Sunday against San Diego.
He won’t have surgery and can return to practice for the Broncos (7-3) after missing the final six regular-season games and play in a game after missing two more.
That would take Denver up to the AFC title game.
He’ll be replaced by rookie Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who has been inactive since Week 2.
Former Baylor basketball player Richard Hurd has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for trying to extort $1 million from Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III last June. … Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt says rookie Ryan Lindley will start at quarterback when Arizona plays the Rams on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Cardinals activated Beanie Wells from the recallable IR list, clearing the way for the running back to play Sunday. He’s been out since Week 3. … Bills running back Fred Jackson has been cleared to play at Indianapolis this weekend after passing a series of NFL-mandated concussion tests. … Quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy aren’t practicing because of concussions and their status for Philadelphia’s game against Carolina on Monday night is uncertain.