Four New Orleans Saints players had their suspensions overturned on Tuesday by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in connection with the investigation of the bounty scandal associated with the team. However, three of the four players were found to have engaged in conduct detrimental to the league and will each face fines to be determined by the NFL.
Tagliabue was tapped by current league Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle this round of player appeals in connection with the Bounty scandal, an alleged pool created by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams upon his arrival to the team in 2009 until 2011 that paid out bonuses to players that inflicted injuries to their opponents. Goddell’s original ruling stands as perhaps the most harsh in the history of the league when he suspended Williams indefinitely, Head Coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, General Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, and Assistant Coach Joe Vitt for six games. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season, and the three other players — Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita — received smaller suspensions.
While the suspensions for Williams, Payton, Loomis, and Vitt were carried out as planned, the four players involved were allowed to play in the 2012 season throughout the appeal process. Tuesday’s ruling states that those player suspensions will be vacated, placing more of the blame on the Saints’ coaching staff.
“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” said a portion of the ruling released by the NFL. “My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”
“We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. Tagliabue as Commissioner Goodell’s designated appeals officer. The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.”