Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in the league's bounty investigation of the club. Tagliabue, however, found that the players' conduct was detrimental to the league.
He says they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including hard tackles - that could justify fines.
But the former commissioner said Tuesday that "this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma initially had been suspended the whole season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove received shorter suspensions.
The NFL released a statement saying, "We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. Tag as Commissioner Goodell's designated appeals officer.
The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league.
Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football."