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Suspended Saints players can come back -- but for how long?

September 07, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • New Orleans defensive end Will Smith is one of four players whose suspensions were overturned by an arbitration panel on Friday.
New Orleans defensive end Will Smith is one of four players whose suspensions… (Jonathan Bachman / Associated…)

The suspension of four players involved with the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program was overturned by a three-member appeals panel Friday, meaning those players are free to return to work.

But does that end the possibility of suspensions that stick? Not from the NFL’s perspective.

Some in the league are interpreting the ruling this way: The panel didn’t question that there was a pay-to-injure bounty program, or that players could be suspended for participating in one. But the panel wants to clarify what the suspensions were for -- that players were getting cash to hurt opponents, or that they circumvented the salary cap by collecting money that wasn’t reported?

The panel wants to know because those are separate infractions, and different people are authorized to handle the discipline associated with those transgressions.

If it’s an issue related to conduct detrimental to the league -- a bounty program -- Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to hand down punishments. If it’s an issue of undisclosed compensation, that falls to arbitrator Stephen B. Burbank, the “special master” agreed upon by the owners and players in the collective bargaining agreement.

The panel said it wasn’t sure whether any part of the commissioner’s discipline was for salary-cap violations, and therefore it lifted the suspensions and told the commissioner to make “an expeditious re-determination” of discipline for conduct detrimental to the league.

Until Goodell does that, the players are eligible to play.

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