Bounty-Gate boys set free

Saints defensive end Will Smith (right) is one of four players previously suspended by the league...

Saints defensive end Will Smith (right) is one of four players previously suspended by the league in the Bounty-Gate scandal who were reinstated yesterday. (Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Jonathan Vilma’s tweet said it all:

“Victory is mine!!!!”

Yes, the man who put up “Do not serve this man” posters about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at his Miami restaurant earned a surprising win in the Bounty-Gate scandal on Friday.

A three-member appeals panel ruled that Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove were no longer under suspension and the NFL quickly reinstated the players, making them eligible for Sunday’s games.

It was a bit of a stunning decision and one that surely will embarrass Goodell, though it probably only prolongs the inevitable.

The panel said he did not have jurisdiction to hear the players’ appeals of their suspensions for their roles in the New Orleans Saints bounty program.

The commissioner is expected to try to punish the players again in the future.

“Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend,” read a statement from the NFL.

According to reports, first cited by SI.com, the panel wanted clarification from the commish as to whether the players were suspended for salary cap-related on conduct-related reasons.

The suspended New Orleans coaches were not impacted by the decision.

Defensive end Smith, who had been suspended for four games, is expected to play on Sunday despite sitting out practice this week because the Saints anticipated playing without him, but Vilma, who had been banished for the season, is battling a knee injury and is doubtful.

Fujita, now with the Browns, who also had been suspended for three games, is expected to play and Hargrove, who faced an eight-game ban, is not currently on a team.

If Smith and Fujita play, their salaries for 2012 will become guaranteed.

Though the Saints are ecstatic: “It makes you feel like they took a very hard look at all the evidence there and saw that we were in the right. ... Today makes you feel like justice has been served,” quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN ­— Goodell still could hand out the exact same suspensions down the line.

The NFL Players Association had argued that Goodell had overstepped his authority and had not followed proper procedures in handing down his rulings.

Goodell cannot suspend the players for salary cap violations, but can for conduct detrimental to the game.

When he tries this again, he has to make it clear that he is suspending them for the latter.

QUICK HITS

That gasp you heard was fantasy football owners reacting to the news that Arian Foster — who went at or near the top of many pools — had to leave Thursday’s practice early due to a knee injury. Foster said he will play on Sunday but the Texans said he will be a game-time decision … Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against Denver, but is unlikely to play, while running back Rashard Mendenhall is listed as doubtful and would also be a surprise participant … Atlanta owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that head coach Mike Smith is not on any “hot seat” despite Atlanta’s playoff struggles … Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson returned to practice on Friday after missing Thursday’s action due to a groin injury and should play on Sunday … Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said he’s “not up to speed” but indicated that if Indianapolis tries to test the soundness of his knee, they’d be making a mistake … Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch took part on a limited basis in practice on Thursday, his first appearance on Aug. 18 and he could be ready for Sunday … The Redskins will meet with former Washington tight end Chris Cooley next week and he might just rejoin the fold … Minnesota has bid to host either the 2018, 2019, or 2020 Super Bowls.

Peterson, MJD big fans of each other

A year ago, Sunday’s Minnesota-Jacksonville matchup would have been all about the battle between two of the NFL’s best backs.
But Minnesota superstar Adrian Peterson will barely play — if he suits up at all — after missing the entire pre-season and Maurice Jones-Drew will serve as a backup following a lengthy holdout.
The Vikings will make a call on Peterson’s status by Saturday.
Though they are opponents, clearly Peterson and Jones-Drew think quite highly about each other and there is a great deal of respect apparent between the two.
“He was their whole offence last year. So, without him, the Jaguars would have been terrible just to be honest,” Peterson told 1500ESPN.com.
Jones-Drew said he was rooting for Peterson to recover because, “as running backs we have to stick together because everybody is trying to devalue ,” Jones-Drew said.
The Jaguars standout admitted he was even looking forward to seeing what Peterson could do following his injury, a statement you usually hear athletes utter with the caveat: “except against us.”

 


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