According to the Associated Press, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has vacated the player suspensions imposed by Roger Goodell in the Bountygate Scandal, but he certainly did not exonerate the Saints' players.
Tagliabue still found that the player's conduct was detrimental to the league, and that participating in a "performance pool" that rewarded key plays could justify fines.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was facing a year-long suspension from the league, while defensive end Will Smith was facing a four-game ban. Cleveland's Scott Fujita faced a three-game suspension as did Anthony Hargrove. Fujita and Hargrove's suspensions were later reduced by Goodell in his initial review.
But what does this mean for the league?
Tagliabue's findings make it pretty clear that the Saints were doing something the league frowned upon. If the conduct could justify fines, couldn't it just as easily justify suspensions? Can we reward players with bounties as long as the terminology is performance pool?
The ruling puts to rest a case that has stolen headlines from the game on the field for the past nine months. Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow have not grabbed as many headlines as Bountygate.
The unprecedented punishments seemed to fit the crime for the major pieces involved (suspensions of general manager Mickey Loomis head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Greg Williams and assistant coach Joe Vitt), but there is no reason the players who participated in the program should avoid similar discipline.
Roger Goodell has cracked down on detrimental conduct on and off the field during his time as commissioner, but this is the first big loss for him. This was more of a legal tactical win for the player's as they were challenging that Goodell could not punish players for making legal hits. Tagliabue sided in favor of the players, but maintained their actions were not in the best interest of the league.