A landmark case had a landmark decision Tuesday afternoon as former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated the suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith plus former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove.
"Unlike Saints' broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” Tagliabue said in a statement. “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."
Read Tagliabue's full decision here: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000109668/article/paul-tagliabues-full-decision-on-saints-bounty-appeal
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell originally handed Vilma a full season suspension, Smith four games, Scott Fujita four games and Hargrove eight games.
The former commissioner said testimony and evidence showed three of the players did engage in conduct detrimental to the league. He found that players participated in a performance-based pool that rewarded certain plays like hard tackles. Those plays could have merited fines.
In a statement, the NFL wrote:
"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."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been vocal during the season, saying Goodell has done a lot of good for the league but that in this case Brees felt he was just wrong. Brees has also gone on national television and radio to defend the team.
"Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated,” Brees tweeted shortly after the ruling. “Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back."
I’ll have my own take later today on a decision that has Saints fans voicing some pretty strong opinions.