The Early Lead
Posted at 04:20 PM ET, 09/07/2012

Saints bounty bans overturned

Four players suspended for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal will be cleared to play in Week 1 of the NFL season after their penalties were overturned by a three-man arbitration panel.

Citing sources, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the ruling “should clear” Saints defensive players Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith as well as former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.

(Update 4:30 p.m.: The NFL and the NFL Players Association confirmed that the suspensions were overturned.)

“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,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, via “Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend.”

Vilma, who maintained his innocence after he was handed a year-long ban, tweeted out the message: “Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin” on Friday afternoon.

The decision has no effect on the suspensions given to Saints head coach Sean Payton, assistant Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The panel’s decision voids Roger Goodell’s suspensions and removes his jurisdiction in the players’ punishment.

Earlier this month, ESPN reported that the NFL offered to reduce Vilma’s suspension as part of settlement talks.

Second-year Saints running back Mark Ingram shared his excitement at the announcement.

The Saints host rookie Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in their season opener Sunday.

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By  |  04:20 PM ET, 09/07/2012

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