- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Orleans Saints have scored their first victory in a long, long time.
After going through arguably one of the harshest offseasons any pro sports franchise has ever faced, the Saints got some very good news Friday afternoon.
A three-member appeals panel has overturned the player suspensions that stemmed from what the NFL said was a three-year bounty program. The decision says NFL commissioner Roger Goodell only can reconsider discipline if there is evidence of intent to injure, and that evidence has to show there was more than a performance pool.
Current Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been given a season-long suspension, and defensive end Will Smith was suspended for the first four games. Former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove also drew suspensions. But all of those suspensions are now vacated.
“Victory is mine!!!!" Vilma wrote on his Twitter account.
Vilma has maintained his innocence all along, and repeatedly insisted the Saints did not run a bounty program. But the victory doesn’t belong just to Vilma.
It’s a big win for the Saints. The NFL released a statement saying that pending further consideration from Goodell, "the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend." So presumably the Saints now can use Smith, their top pass-rusher, in Sunday’s season opener against Washington.
It isn’t immediately clear if Vilma will be able to play. Prior to the start of his suspension, Vilma was rehabbing an injured knee and it’s not known if he’s healthy enough to play. It’s possible Vilma could open the season on the physically unable to perform list.