Tough Decisions for New Orleans Saints with Bounty Suspensions Reportedly Lifted

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2012

photo courtesy of the Times-Picayune
photo courtesy of the Times-Picayune

Suspended New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma seems happy.

That’s because Vilma reportedly isn’t suspended any longer. The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune on Friday wrote that the suspensions of four players for their roles in the Saints' alleged bounty program have been tossed out by an appeals committee.

Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith, along with Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, may be eligible to play as early as this Sunday in Week 1 NFL action.

Even more amazing, prior to the appeals ruling, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reported from a source that Smith would suit up and play on Sunday if he were ruled eligible to do so.

Before Smith grabs a helmet, a few loose ends need to be tied.

First, and foremost, an official source needs to hand down the ruling that the four suspensions have been overturned. As of now, nothing has been confirmed or stated from the league office.

If—and it’s more likely when—the league announces that the four suspensions have been overturned, it’s going to take more than just Smith, Vilma and Hargrove lacing up cleats just to get them into the game.

Currently Vilma and Smith are on New Orleans' reserve/injured list. As long as they are on this list, their salaries don’t count against the team, and they don’t take up 53-man roster spots.

Before either one, or both, can play, he has to be removed from the reserve/injured list and added to the 53-man roster.

According to ESPN, the Saints are currently $8.1 million under the cap. Smith carries a $5.1 million cap figure, and Vilma’s salary-cap hit is $3.3 to the Saints.

New Orleans is close but just can’t quite fit both players in under the cap.

No team, however, has ever been thwarted by a mere $300K in cap space. Let’s not forget that this whole bounty fiasco has brought this team much closer together. I imagine a Rudy line out the door of the cap guy’s office of Saints players willing to restructure their contracts to help get Vilma and Smith back.

Don’t forget, though, if the Saints add Vilma and Smith to the 53-man roster, two players currently residing on the roster will have to go.

That Rudy line just got a lot shorter.

While just about every player would be willing to take a small pay cut or restructure some early money in a long contract, not too many people would willingly give up a spot on a professional football roster.

This is going to be a tough decision for the Saints front office. And it’s a decision that can’t be made by general manager Mickey Loomis, who is still serving his suspension.

Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and linebackers coach Joe Vitt did not receive free passes. Their suspensions are still in place.

Someone other than Loomis will have to make these tough-money and roster decisions. Someone other than Payton and Vitt will still be coaching Sunday.