The four players suspended by the NFL for their involvement in the alleged New Orleans Saints "bounty" program had their suspensions overturned by a collective bargaining agreement panel on Friday.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been suspended for the entire 2012 regular season, free agent Anthony Hargrove for eight games, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita for three games.
All four players are now eligible to play in week one of the regular season.
Vilma, the player who was most aggressive in fighting the ruling to the tune of two federal lawsuits against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league, showed his appreciationwith a famous quote from cartoon character Stewie Griffin on Family Guy after the decision via Twitter (@JonVilma51):
Victory is mine!!!!
While Vilma has missed all of training camp due to his suspension, Smith was with the Saints throughout the preseason. Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer noted that his starting left end would need just a day of preparation to be ready to play Sunday against the Redskins in the season opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. To make room for Smith on the 53-man active roster, New Orleans released fullback Korey Hall.
Gabe Feldman, Director of Tulane Sports Law Program, notes via Twitter that the players are not free-and-clear from suspensions down the road. He explained that the panel finds that bounty conduct both constituted payment in violation of CBA and payment with intent to injure other players but Goodell only has jurisdiction to punish for the "intent to injure" part of the misconduct and must reconsider the case.
The NFL released the following statement in response to the panel's decision:
"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."
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