NFL reissues suspensions in alleged bounty case, with changes

The NFL reissued suspensions Tuesday to four players accused of involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ alleged bounty program.

Three of the four punishments were modified.

Linebacker Scott Fujita, who now plays for Cleveland, saw his suspension reduced from three games to one. The suspension of defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove was reduced from eight games to seven, with credit for five games served even though he’s a free agent without a team. There is no change to the suspension of Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, who is still banned for four games. And linebacker Jonathan Vilma is still out for the season, although the NFL says he can keep the pay he earned for his six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.

Even though he had been cleared to play, Vilma was not able to because of the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered last season.

The players’ suspensions were lifted last month by a three-member appeals panel that determined NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was overstepping his authority if he was punishing the players for both conduct detrimental to the league and circumventing the salary cap. He has the authority to punish for the former, but not the latter.

Goodell modified the suspensions, clarifying that they were for detrimental conduct, and resubmitted them.

“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell said in a written memo to all 32 teams.

“In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story, In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”

Minutes after the NFL announced the new suspensions, the NFL Players Assn. followed with a scathing response.

“For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever,” the union said in a statement. “The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake.

“We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance.”

The players have the ability now to appeal their new suspensions to Goodell, or to take the league back to court. It’s likely the players will be back before a judge to fight the punishments.