Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions handed out to four players as a result of the ‘Bountygate’ scandal, it was revealed Tuesday.
After months of legal wrangling between the league, the players, lawyers and the NFLPA, Tagliabue – brought in to act as a ‘judge’ in the convoluted affair – deemed the New Orleans Saints guilty of offering bounties for ‘big hits’ but decreed that players should not serve the suspensions administered by current NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell.
The decision clears the way for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith to continue playing this season with New Orleans.
Scott Fujita – now with the Cleveland Browns – was added to the injured reserve list at the end of October with an injured shoulder and will miss the rest of the season despite now being eligible to play.
The fourth player originally reprimanded in the scandal, Anthony Hargrove, is currently a free agent having been released by the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 24.
Vilma had been due to serve a season-long suspension, with Smith (eight games), Hargrove (seven) and Fujita (one) set for shorter bans.
Tagliabue’s findings deemed that the entire ‘Bountygate’ scandal had “has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”
His ruling went on to state: “[the Saint’s] coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL’s investigation.”
The decision appears to completely lay the blame on the Saints organization, which has already been punished having run out of appeal channels.
Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season. His only appearance this season came in the stands on the day Drew Brees passed Johnny Unitas for the most consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
General manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt were suspended for eight games and six games alike. Both terms have been served.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was banned from the league indefinitely.
Tagliabue’s decision to overturn Goodell’s player sentencing but validate his claims that the Saints as an organization were guilty as charged has been seen by many as a copout. Many feel that the league office now realizes that it went about its business wrong, and is simply looking to get out of the fight.
The fight isn’t over though. Vilma still has an outstanding defamation lawsuit against Goodell, and there is no indication just yet as to whether the linebacker will rescind the case. The chances are he won’t, and Goodell and Co. will face another long and winding legal journey.
For the Saints though, the damage is already done.
With the slow and laborious pace of the legal proceedings, Vilma and Smith have contributing to the Saints for much of the season, but the distractions have led the Saints to field the worst defense in the league.
New Orleans has given up a league-worst 436.9 yards per game. This includes 152.4 yards on the ground (another league worst) and 284.5 yards through the air (30th). The team has conceded 29.2 points per game. Only Tennessee and Oakland have given up more.
The result of this irksome performance is a 5-8 record and virtually no shot at the postseason. Mathematically still alive in the hunt, the Saints would need to win out with a slew of other sides losing all three games left on the slate. Such is the unlikelihood of this actually happening, the Saints have found themselves removed from the NFL Futures board over the past week.
New Orleans will host Tampa Bay at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this weekend, entering the game as a four-point favorite. The following week the side will travel to Dallas before closing out the season with a home game against fellow NFC South strugglers, Carolina.
Whilst the impact of Sean Payton’s absence will never be truly known, it seems reasonable to consider the head coach and the Saints organization happy with Tagliabue’s decision. After all, Vilma will now be available to play next season, when it just so happens he’ll be playing for a new contract. And we know what contract years can give a team.