The Saints players suspended for Bountygate won their appeal against the NFL, in a stunning turn of events on Friday, with a three-member appeals panel informing commissioner Roger Goodell that he must reconsider the punishment.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports that the three-page summary ruling from system arbitrator Stephen Burbank and an appeals panel allows suspended Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Cleveland's Scott Fujita to potentially play this weekend, but the element of for how long remains unknown.
"This puts the commissioner's discipline on hold," said one source who was reviewing the ruling, "but no one is sure for how long."
The letter indicated a more detailed ruling is to follow, but with Week 1 approaching this was issued for now. Vilma, who has not yet even taken a physical for the Saints as he was banned from the facility, could be placed on the PUP list, sources said; Smith is very likely to play while Browns coach Pat Shurmur has a policy that payers who miss all of practice do not play (the fourth suspended player, Anthony Hargrove, is a free agent).
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The decision cites Article 14 and 46 of the CBA; the system arbitrator has control over matters in Article 14, which in this case would pertain to the issue of the alleged bounty program being a circumvention of the salary cap. Article 46 pertains to matters of player discipline under the commissioner's domain, and in this case the issue of whether this was a program designed to intentionally injure players.
Given the complexity of this issue, and with matters of both articles intertwined, in the view of this panel, the decision was made to "vacate the player discipline" and "remands the matter to the Commissioner for expeditious redetermination." Thus Goodell is to put forth a new ruling on the matter taking into account these CBA nuances.
The NFL issued a statement on Friday stating they would do just that in an "expedited" fashion.
"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," the NFL said in a statement. "Until that determination is made the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."
There is still the possibility of the federal judge making a ruling on the players' appeal for an injunction on the suspensions.
In the meantime, with a lifted suspension the players would be eligible for Week 1 game checks, and, as vested veterans, those salaries become guaranteed for the season if they are on the roster at that time. So that could further complicate this already murky issue, with the players originally facing no payment while suspended and the possibility still existing that at some point they are suspended again.
Vilma celebrated the news in, ahem, irreverant style:
Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin— Jonathan Vilma (@JonVilma51) September 7, 2012