Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 9/7/12

All four players associated with the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal had their suspensions unanimously overturned Friday by a three-man arbitration panel, and are eligible to play this weekend, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

While Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove can now suit up with their respective NFL teams, they may still subjected to suspensions if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell proves there was intent to injure, according to NFL.com.

"Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin," Vilma tweeted Friday afternoon, quoting a character from the animated TV series "The Family Guy."

For now, the league is allowing the players back on the field.

"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."

The appeals panel overturned the suspensions on the basis that they couldn't determine whether Goodell's levied the suspensions under his authority to prevent conduct detrimental to the game, or whether he encroached on the exclusive power of the "System Arbitrator" to punish violations of the salary cap, since money potentially changed hands as part of the bounty program.

Now, Goodell essentially must start the process from the beginning. With players such as Saints quarterback Drew Brees publicly questioning whether players trust Goodell and his integrity on the line, it's possible he will not entirely revisit the matter.

"I'm not surprised," Brees said Friday. "Obviously, I felt like they saw the information that we've seen for a long time."

To uphold punishment for the players, Goodell will have to prove "intent to injure" on the part of the four players. They've testified under oath in federal court that there was no such intent, referring to the cash rewards as performance payments.

"I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player," Vilma said in a written statement before his initial appeal was heard by Goodell in New York. "I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner."

Vilma filed for a temporary restraining order in federal court. The acting official, Judge Helen Berrigan, declined to rule until Vilma exhausted his NFL appeal options. Berrigan said Friday that in light of the panel's ruling, "the court will take no action on pending matters at this time."

Essentially, Berrigan will now wait until Goodell reviews the matter because the players have been granted the temporary relief of having their suspensions lifted. If action is again taken by the NFL, the Vilma suit would move forward.

Friday's appeals decision affects just the players, not suspended coaches Gregg Williams, Sean Payton and Joe Vitt, who aren't covered by the union or a collective bargaining appeals panel. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson are also not covered by the decision to vacate the suspensions.

The NFL Players Association and the four players had claimed in lawsuits that Goodell abused his power and followed improper procedures in meting out discipline for a program that NFL investigators determined paid improper cash bonuses for tackles that injured opponents. The lawsuits asked for the punishments to be thrown out.

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