Two days before the New Orleans Saints’ season opener, Albert Breer of NFL.com reports that Saints defenders Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, free agent Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns have had their offseason “bounty-gate” suspensions overturned.
Vilma was previously suspended for the duration of the 2012 season. Hargrove was scheduled to miss eight games. Smith had been sentenced to four and Fujita was suspended for three.
Current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely, Saints head coach Sean Payton will sit out the 2012 year and general manger Mickey Loomis will miss the first eight games of the season.
Interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt will also be suspended for the first six games for his role.
Breer reports that “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can go back and suspend the players if he proves there was an intent to injure.”
While they are active players, the return of Vilma and Smith to the Saints’ locker room for the beginning of the 2012 season will likely be a major boost in morale to the players.
Whether they actually suit up with such little time to prepare for Sunday remains to be seen. With no practice or training camp, it is unlikely that they will in Week 1, but they can provide insight and support on the sidelines.
Upon returning to the field, Vilma will look to join former divisional foe Curtis Lofton (from the Atlanta Falcons) to form one of the more productive linebacker tandems in the league.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints play the two defenders. Each of them was entrenched as a starting middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme in 2011.
Lofton, who sprained his left ankle in the preseason, is expected to begin the season in uniform for the Saints (via Sheldon Mickles of The Advocate).
New Orleans plays host to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in Week 1.