NFL's Bountygate suspensions overturned for players 0
An appeals panel has overturned the suspensions handed to four NFL players over the Bountygate scandal involving current and former Saints players, including Jonathan Vilma. (Chris Keane/Reuters/Files)
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 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.
The decision affects just the players, not suspended coaches Gregg Williams, Sean Payton and Joe Vitt.
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.