NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith on Tuesday for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and reduced penalties for Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.
Though an appeal panel created by the NFL’s labor agreement vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds, Goodell ruled he was sticking with his decision to suspend Vilma for the season and Smith for four games.
Hargrove, a free agent defensive lineman, will face a two-game suspension once he signs with a team. He originally was hit with eight games, but that was reduced to seven with five games already served.
Fujita, who plays for Cleveland, will now miss only one game instead of three.
The responses of Vilma, Smith and the NFL Players Association left little doubt that the seven-month-old bounty saga is far from over.
Vilma said on Twitter that the new ruling “this is not news to me pride won’t let him admit he’s wrong.” Smith issued a statement saying he will continue to explore his appeal options.
Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said in a statement that Goodell’s new ruling “continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the ‘evidence.’ What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just. The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
The players were implicated in what the NFL said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. The players have acknowledged a pool but denied they intended to injure anyone.
The players can delay their suspensions by appealing again through their labor contract, which they have three days to do. They could also ask a federal judge in New Orleans to revisit their earlier request for an injunction blocking the suspensions.
Goodell, meanwhile, stood by the substance of the investigation began when allegations were first brought to the league’s attention three seasons ago.
“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental [to the game] are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.
Goodell’s new ruling comes about a month after an appeal panel vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds during Week 1 of the regular season. The panel did not address the merits of the league’s investigation. It merely asked Goodell to clarify to extent to which his ruling involved conduct detrimental to the league, which he has the sole authority to handle, and salary cap violations resulting from bonus payments, which would have to be ruled upon by an arbitrator other than the commissioner.
Only Smith and Fujita have played this season. Vilma has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and hopes to return in two weeks when the Saints play at Tampa Bay. The Saints linebacker is on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the season and Goodell’s new ruling said that Vilma can be paid for that period.
Smith issued a statement after the new rulings were announced.