Many are painting the decision to wipe out the bounty suspensions imposed against Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove as a slam-dunk win for the players.
While it was a victory on the surface, it was fairly hollow and potentially temporary.
Apart from the fact that the timing of the decision prevented the players from practicing in preparation for Week One, the ruling gives the NFL another chance to impose the suspensions in a way that draws clear lines between conduct detrimental to the game (over which Commissioner Roger Goodell has jurisdiction) and salary-cap violations arising from a pay-for-performance/bounty system (over which Goodell has no jurisdiction).
It’s likely that the league will simply re-issue the same suspensions. Indeed, the memo sent by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash to the various teams on Friday clearly indicates that the league continues to believe that wrongdoing occurred — and that there should be significant punishment for it.
“Nothing in today’s decision contradicts any of the facts found in the investigation into this matter, or absolves any player of responsibility for conduct detrimental,” Pash writes. “Nor does the decision in any way suggest what discipline would be appropriate for conduct that lies within the authority of the Commissioner. Per the panel’s direction, the Commissioner will promptly reconsider the matter and make a determination of the appropriate discipline consistent with the standards set forth in today’s decision. All clubs will be advised when that decision is made.”
It would be a surprise if the outcome is anything other than what it already was: a full season for Vilma, four games for Smith, three games for Fujita, and eight games for Hargrove.