NEW ORLEANS – The suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and three other players in the NFL’s
bounty investigation were lifted Friday by a three-member appeals panel, and the league re-
nstated those players a few minutes later.
While the ruling allows Saints linebacker Vilma, banned for the 2012 season, Saints defensive
end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony
Hargrove to play immediately, it does not permanently void their suspensions. Sill, the ruling
comes just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season and is a setback for
commissioner Roger Goodell and the league.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell would “make an expedited determination of the dis-
ipline imposed” for violating the league’s bounty rule. “Util that determination is made, the
four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend,” Aiello said. League
sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Goodell is likely to reach a new decision
in the coming weeks, but it will not be before this weekend’s games.
Vilma tweeted: “Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin.”
Added Fujita: “I’m overwhelmed with all the support. Thank you so much everyone. Can’t tell
you how much it means to me.”
The ruling does not affect New Orleans coach Sean Payton (suspended for the season), inter-
im coach Joe Vitt (six games) or general manager Mickey Loomis (six games). If Vilma, Smith
and Fujita are now on their respective teams’ rosters Sunday, their salaraies will be guaranteed
for the 2012 season. Hargrove was released by the Packers in the preseason. “I think it is an
extremely strong statement that a three-judge panel unanimously ruled to lift the suspensions,”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN’s Ed Werder. “It makes you feel like they took a very
hard look at all the evidence there and saw that we were in the right. … Today makes you feel
like justice has been served.”
While the panel did not address the merits of the NFL’s bounty investigation, it said Goodell
overstepped his authority in hearing the players’ appeals of their punishment for their roles
in the Saints bounty program that paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.
The panel’s decision states that special master Stephen Burbank, not Goodell, should discip-
line players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays. Goodell’s role, the panel
said, should be limited to whether he can prove the players intended to injure opponents,
which would fall in the category of conduct detrimental to the game. Players and coaches im-
plicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never
intended to injure opposing players.
“Whether the commissioner tries to readdress the situation or not is his call,” said Peter Gins-
berg, Vilma’s attorney. “We are certainly hoping the appeals board has made it clear the com-
missioner tried to grab jurisdiction and impose penalties over an area he does not have over-
sight. … The factual record in the court makes it clear he has acted in a biased and inappro-