The four New Orleans Saints players who were suspended for their involvement in the team’s bounty scandal were granted reprieve early last month when an internal appeals panel vacated the penalties handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Their freedom will be short-lived, however.
The NFL re-issued the suspensions for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove on Tuesday.
In letters sent to all four players and made available on the league’s communications Web site, Goodell explained his decision to uphold the penalties and, in the cases of Fujita and Hargrove, reduce the severity.
Vilma will again be suspended for a full season and Smith will be suspended four games. Fujita will have his suspension reduced from three games to one and Hargrove’s original eight-game suspension has been reduced to seven games.
“While I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool, there is no serious question that you were aware of the pool and its elements, including that it provided rewards for cart-offs,” Goodell wrote in his letter to Fujita. “Indeed, Mr. [Jonathan] Vilma testified that Coach [Gregg] Williams brought the program to the team’s defensive leaders before the 2009 season and that you supported and endorsed it. Your own comments confirm that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off’ the playing field….
“I find that your violation of the rule, which protects the integrity of the game, constitutes conduct detrimental to the League. Accordingly, I have determined that you should be suspended without pay for one game.”
Vilma may not play for the Saints this season, but he will retain the salary he earned during his 6 weeks on the PUP list.
All four players may appeal the ruling to Goodell, and assuming their appeals are denied, they could then take the NFL back to court, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports.