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Appeals panel overturns suspensions for Saints’ bounty scandal players

Smith, Vilma are eligible to play vs. Redskins

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2012

This week, the Washington Redskins have been preparing for an extra-motivated New Orleans Saints team, given this tumultuous offseason created by the bounty scandal and subsequent suspensions.

As a result of the team's bounty system, the NFL suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma and head coach Sean Payton for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis eight games, assistant Joe Vitt six games and defensive end Will Smith two games.

"I'm sure they're going to be coming out on fire with everything that went on this offseason," Redskins defensive end Adam Carriker said. "A lot of people are saying without the coaches and without some players they won't be able to do it, so they'll be trying to prove people wrong."

That fire might still be there Sunday, but the Saints got a legal victory Friday as a three-person appeals panel ruled in favor of the NFL Players Association and overturned the suspensions for Vilma, Smith and ex-New Orleans defenders Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.

Vilma and Smith will be on the Saints' roster for the start of the season and are eligible to play Sunday against the Redskins. It was not immediately clear if Smith would play; Vilma has a knee injury that likely would keep him out regardless of his suspension being lifted.

In announcing the official ruling on behalf of the unanimous panel, Richard J. Howell wrote that while commissioner Roger Goodell has jurisdiction to punish for "conduct detrimental" to the league, more clarification was needed as to whether the suspensions were made for their contributing to the bounty fund or "players' agreement to seek to injure opposing players."

"Consistent with the panel's decision, commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule. Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend," the league said in a statement.

Goodell has the opportunity to bring down suspensions on these players again, though that very likely will not happen until after Sunday.

"Thank you to everyone involved in the process of this solution," Smith wrote in a Twitter post. "And everyone who supported us through this whole ordeal."

Vilma wrote on Twitter: "Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin," a reference to the cartoon "Family Guy."

This ruling affects only the players, not Payton, Vitt, Loomis and ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. It's not clear whether those coaches will seek similar legal action.

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