New Orleans Saints' linebacker Jonathan Vilma and three other Saints players were vindicated this week when an arbitration panel lifted the bans placed on them for participating in the Saints' intent-to-injure bounty program.
'Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin'
Glancing at the headlines, it felt like the Saints' players (less their defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) had been completely absolved.
Unfortunately for the Saints and their fans, that may not be the case.
The Vilma and the suspended players do in fact have their bans lifted, and they are eligible to play Week 1, though it's likely they're a few weeks away from playing shape. It's a big win against a powerful entity in Commissioner Roger Goodell, and it seems especially relevant given Lance Armstrong's recent decision to give up the fight against his doping charges.
But even though they won the appeal, the Saints' victory over Goodell was based more on procedural deliberations than the players' names being cleared by the three-member arbitration panel.
The ruling by the panel is essentially that Goodell must provide substantive evidence that the players violated Article 46 of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, which grants authority to suspend under the language of "conduct detrimental" to the league.
There is substantive proof that Vilma violated Article 14, which prohibits players from entering into undisclosed agreements of any kind regarding, as the ruling puts it, "considerations to be made available to the player" (in this example, pooling cash for an alleged bounty program).
But this violation is the jurisdiction of acting System Arbitrator Stephen Burbank, not Goodell.
Thus, the suspensions have been lifted and the Saints' players are able to play.
In order to reissue his suspensions, Goodell needs to impose the suspensions in a way that distinguishes the ruling as clearly based on "conduct detrimental" to the game (his exclusive jurisdiction) and not on violating the salary cap by pooling money.
Essentially, all he needs to do is provide substantive evidence that a bounty program was taking place within the Saints' organization and then he will be able to re-suspend Vilma and the Saints' under his jurisdiction.
The league issued a statement asserting that he will do just that:
Consistent with the panel's decision, Commissioner [Roger] Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule.
Until that time, the Saints' players are eligible to play. Vilma can channel his inner Stewie Griffin and get ready to wreak havoc on the NFL.
But don't be surprised if he's got a lot more time to watch Family Guy in the near future.