An arbitration panel said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not have jurisdiction… (David Goldman / Associated…)
Two days before the start of their season, the New Orleans Saints have already notched a major victory.
The suspensions of four players involved in the alleged bounty program have been lifted by a three-person arbitration panel, meaning the banned players are free to return.
The ruling does not lift the suspensions of the coaches, so Saints Coach Sean Payton is still out for the year, linebackers coach Joe Vitt will sit out the first six games, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is still banned indefinitely.
But linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland), and defensive lineman Will Smith are eligible to play Sunday. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, also suspended, was cut by Green Bay in August.
The appeals panel said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not have jurisdiction to hear the players' appeals of their punishment for their involvement in the improper program.
The ruling does not, however, permanently void the suspensions.
In a written statement, the league said: "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. Until that determination is made the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."
Vilma, who had been suspended for the season, put it more succinctly on Twitter, quoting a character from the animated series "Family Guy": "Victory is mine!!! -stewie griffin"
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