League files evidence in Jonathan Vilma case


NEW ORLEANS — The NFL on Thursday provided a federal judge with what it says is evidence Commissioner Roger Goodell did not improperly pre-judge the four players suspended in the bounty investigation.

The evidence includes a copy of a letter the NFL Players Association sent the league on March 7 asking Goodell to delay punishment of players implicated in the bounty probe.

It also includes a sworn declaration from Goodell in which he states he was prepared to hand down player discipline at the same time he announced suspensions for coaches and executives on March 21. Goodell’s declaration states he held off after verbally agreeing to do so in a phone conversation with union head DeMaurice Smith.

Attorneys for Jonathan Vilma, who has sued separately, and NFLPA lawyers representing the three other punished players have argued Goodell showed improper bias with comments he made before sending the players notice of their suspensions on May 2.

Attorneys for the players have been given until Friday to file their own evidence and briefs on the matter.

Vilma’s consolidated lawsuits include a defamation claim against Goodell. Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg, has argued Goodell made reckless and false statements about Vilma being the ringleader of a bounty program that offered cash for injuring targeted opponents.

Vilma has asked U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to grant a temporary restraining order that would allow him to return to the Saints while his case proceeds, and the judge has said she would be inclined to rule in his favor, but will hold off until she is comfortable she has jurisdiction to do so.

Berrigan has indicated that she might prefer to see how separate proceedings called for in the league’s collective bargaining agreement play out.

One item still pending is the NFLPA’s appeal of system arbitrator Stephen Burbank’s ruling that Goodell had the authority to serve as arbitrator on the bounty matter because of the commissioner’s stance that the violations represented “conduct detrimental” to the league, as opposed to standard on-field violations, which would call for an arbitrator other than the commissioner.

A three-member appeal panel is expected to review Burbank’s decision late this month, and if it rules in the players’ favor, that could negate the need for further action in federal court.

T.O. to play for Seattle against Denver

RENTON, Wash. — Peyton Manning’s debut in Denver won’t hog all the attention. Terrell Owens will be taking some himself.

Owens will make his return to the NFL when the Seattle Seahawks play the Broncos on Saturday night. Seattle coach Pete Carroll didn’t give specifics on how many snaps Owens will get in the second preseason game for the Seahawks, but he did say it would be early in the game.

“I’m not going to tell you how many plays it will be,” Carroll said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Owens joined the Seahawks on Aug. 6 and had just a couple of days of practice before the preseason opener against Tennessee. Carroll said he didn’t think it was fair to run Owens out there that quickly but feels he’s ready after two weeks of work.

Owens arrived in camp in excellent shape and has looked impressive at times during practice. But if he’s to make the Seahawks final roster, Owens will need to show in a game that he’s fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the NFL for the entire 2011 season.

Saturday against the Broncos will be his first NFL game action since Week 15 of the 2010 season with Cincinnati. Owens went without a catch in that final game against Cleveland.

Witten hopes he’ll be ready for opener

OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is hopeful that he will be ready to play in the season opener in three weeks.

Witten is dealing with a lacerated spleen sustained in the preseason opener.

“I’m doing all right. … Stay optimistic. Take it one day at a time. Get healthy and regroup when we get back to Dallas,” Witten said Thursday. “Obviously I would be hard pressed thinking I am not out there for the Giants game. Again, there is no timetable.”

The seven-time Pro Bowler got hurt in the preseason opener Monday night when he got hit after he caught a pass from a scrambling Tony Romo.

Witten is expected to miss the rest of the preseason for the Cowboys, starting with Saturday night’s game at San Diego. The regular-season opener is Sept. 5 at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Texans sign left tackle Brown to a new contract

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans signed left tackle Duane Brown to a new contract Thursday, locking up a durable anchor to help protect Matt Schaub and open holes for Arian Foster.

The six-year contract is worth $53.4 million, with $22.08 million guaranteed, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said on condition of anonymity because terms have not been released by the team.

“I understand they had a lot of confidence in me, a lot of faith in me,” Brown said. “I’m just very grateful. I try to put in as much work as possible and just do my part for this team and make it successful, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Brown has started all but four games since the Texans drafted him with the 26th overall pick in 2008. Brown earned Associated Press All-Pro second team honors in 2011 after helping the Texans set a franchise record for yards rushing (2,448). Brown was not called for holding once last season.

NFL suspends Chargers’ Brown four games

SAN DIEGO — The NFL says San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Garrett Brown has been suspended without pay for the team’s first four regular-season games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Brown, who signed as a free agent, will be eligible to return to the Chargers’ active roster on Oct. 1.

The league says Brown is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and exhibition games.

General manager A.J. Smith didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Bills QB Young owes loan company $1.7M

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Quarterback Vince Young has been ordered to pay a loan company nearly $1.7 million after missing a payment in late May, shortly after signing with the Buffalo Bills.

The ruling against Young was made in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan on July 2, according to court documents.

Young took out a high-risk loan from Pro Player Funding for $1.877 million during the NFL lockout in May 2011, while he was still under contract with the Tennessee Titans. The loan — plus $619,000 in interest — was due to be paid back in January 2013 at an annual interest rate of 20 percent. That rate jumped another 10 percent if Young missed a payment.

A ruling in the lending company’s favor was made because Young agreed he understood the terms by signing what’s called an affidavit of confession of judgment upon taking out the loan. The affidavit is regarded as proof and could be used at any time by the lender in the event a client defaults on the loan.

TMZ.com first reported the ruling against Young last week.