A three-man arbitration panel called for the lifting of suspensions for the four former and current New Orleans Saints’ players accused in the alleged bounty scandal Friday afternoon. The league reinstated those players soon thereafter.
As a result, all four players are eligible to play this weekend, and thus have not missed any regular season games.
The players affected are Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and unrestricted free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who was recently released during camp by the Green Bay Packers.
The panel found that commissioner Roger Goodell had overstepped his authority in regard to the bounty punishments’ appeals process for the accused players. Goodell instead should be limited to whether or not he can prove the players’ intent of injuring their opponents.
Basically, Goodell and the NFL have officially been told to reconsider the way in which they determined punishment for players in the alleged bounty program. However, Goodell still has the right to revisit the case under the jurisdiction of conduct detrimental to the game.
The appeals panel also translated the case into two separate and distinct parts: financial and intent-to injure.
If the bounty program did indeed exist, the salary cap under the current CBA would be violated. Goodell, however, still has the authority to determine intent-to-injure because such an act would be detrimental to the league.
In short, Goodell can and may take one more swing at these players and their careers this season.
But in the meantime, Smith and Fujita, with both of their teams receiving special roster exemptions for them, will likely rejoin their teammates on the field this Sunday.
Hargrove can now discuss having another chance at a career move with interested NFL teams.
Vilma will not play for the Saints this weekend, as he is still recovering from a knee injury.
This announcement is also the latest word on Vilma’s defamation suit against the NFL and Goodell, as the judge in that case had delayed her ruling on a temporary restraining order until the appeals panel’s decision. That decision now acts as Vilma’s temporary restraining order, allowing him to return to work.
The ruling on Sean Payton’s season-long suspension has not been affected by this announcement, nor have the suspensions of general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) or interim coach Joe Vitt (six games). But, certainly the hope of Saints fans, the commissioner and the NFL may rethink Payton’s harsh punishment in light of recent developments.
Another question the Saints will now face is who will be cut to make room for Smith and Vilma’s return, as the roster exemptions for both of them will no longer apply.