In a shocking turn of events in the ongoing New Orleans Saints Bountygate saga, a three-member arbitration panel has lifted the suspensions of four players who allegedly sought to injure opponents for cash payments from 2009-2011.
Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove (free agent) and Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns) are now permitted to return to their respective teams and play on Sunday.
Vilma, who was suspended for the entire season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, has maintained his innocence since the scandal erupted in March. Upon hearing the news that his suspension had been overturned, the three-time Pro Bowler tweeted out the following message on Friday:
“Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin.”
While Vilma and the other suspended players can celebrate for now, this may not be the end of Bountygate.
"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," the NFL said in a statement. "Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."
Basically, Commissioner Goodell will now have to reexamine the evidence and determine the proper punishments. If Goodell can present evidence showing that the players intentionally sought to injure opponents, he could suspend them for only that violation – but not the sweeping ones originally imposed.
This decision does not impact the suspensions levied on Saints head coach Sean Payton, assistant coach Joe Vitt, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and general manager Mickey Loomis.
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