Panel overturns ban of four players in Saints bounty program
New York, NY, United States (4E Sports) – New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and three other players scored a huge victory in their battle against the NFL when a collective bargaining agreement appeals panel overturned their suspensions in connection with the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the Vilma, free agent Anthony Hargrove, Saints defensive end Will Smith and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita are eligible to play starting this weekend.
However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can suspend the four players if he proves that there was intent to injure.
“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,” Aiello said in a statement. “Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend.”
Goodell earlier suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, Hargrove for eight games, Will Smith for four games and Fujita three games for their alleged involvement in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
The panel’s decision did not include the suspensions on the Saints coaching staff. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely while coach Sean Payton received a season-long ban, general manager Mickey Loomis eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games
“Victory is mine,” Vilma said in his Twitter account in reaction to the ruling.
Hargrove’s agent, Phil Williams, said his client is ready to play if ever he receives an offer while a source close to Smith said the defensive end plans to play Sunday in the Saints’ regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and safety Roman Harper both welcome the return of their teammates.
“Well, if coach (Aaron) Kromer would let him come out, I’d definitely like to play with these guys,” Harper told NFL.com.
“I’m excited,” Brees told NFL.com. “I’ve been focused on the game, but I hoped that that would be the case. No, I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t call me surprised. Obviously, they saw the information that we’ve seen for a long time.”