The NFL late Monday morning shot down an ESPN report that said the league has offered to reduce the season-long suspension of Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma in half to to eight games as part of ongoing settlement talks.
Citing sources familiar with the discussions, ESPN reported Sunday night that Vilma and three other players suspended for their role in a bounty program the league said members of the Saints’ defense participated in could have their penalties reduced if Vilma drops his civil lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, however, released a statement on NFL.com saying that no such talks are ongoing with Vilma and his attorneys.
“Today’s report about a settlement offer by the league to Jonathan Vilma is completely inaccurate. No such settlement offer has been made,” Aiello said. “We will continue to respect the court proceedings on this matter and have no further comment at this time.”
The two sides have battled all summer in the federal court system after Goodell handed out the sanctions to Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games) and two former Saints — Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games) and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games).
Those suspensions came after Saints coach Sean Payton was banished for the entire 2012 season, while General Manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt received eight- and six-game bans, respectively.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who the NFL said administered the bounty program, was suspended indefinitely and cannot apply for reinstatement until after the 2012 season.
After being suspended, Vilma filed suit against Goodell for defamation of character. He argued Goodell hasn’t proven that a pay-for-performance scheme in which players earned cash rewards for intentionally hurting opposing players.
Vilma went to court on July 26, seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow him access to the team’s training room and team doctors to continue to rehab a knee that he’s had three surgeries on since last November.
ESPN reported that settlement talks between Vilma and the NFL would continue Monday. Another hearing in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan, who heard Vilma’s request for a TRO last month, is scheduled for Friday.