Well...isn't this an interesting turn of events.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, appointed by the league to oversee the Saints Bounty investigation ruled early Tuesday afternoon that the player suspensions over the issue were not valid.
That being said, he didn't exactly find them without fault stating that the engaged in "Conduct Detrimental to the League". He did agree with the finding that the Bounty System existed.
What Tagliabue did say: "I strongly condemn the misconduct of the Saints coaches found by Commissioner Goodell and confirmed in the record developed during this appeal," Tagliabue wrote. "That severe misconduct played a substantial role in my deciding whether to sustain, in whole or in part, or vacate the discipline to be imposed upon these four players.
"Equally, in vacating the players' suspensions I do not in any degree condone their behavior. I do not approve any of the misconduct in which Commissioner Goodell found the players to have engaged, though I do not find Fujita's conduct equivalent to the other players."
It also means that the 4-players involved in the suspensions, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith still with the Saints, former Saints LB Scott Fujita and former D-lineman Anthony Hargrove are eligible to play...immediately.
What is interesting is the spin from both parties in this debate.
NFL PR Czar Greg Aiello said this for the league: "We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision which underscores the due process afforded players in the NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner Goodell, 2 CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel and Mr. Tagliabue as Comissioner Goodell's designated appeals officer. The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of the league rules for 3-years,, that the program endangered player safety and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football."
Aiello also mentioned on Twitter that Tagliabue said "There is evidence that suggests Commissioner Goodell could have disciplined a greater number of Saints players.
Said the NFLPA, who didn't quite see things the same way: "We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result. We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue as the appointed hearings officer agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program. Vacating the discipline affirms the players unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged 'Intent to Injure' were utterly and completely false. We are happy for our members."
What this means: (In English)--Both sides are further emboldened. The league says they are vindicated, that it doesn't change what they say is true. The players say it does. They say it proves the players are innocent.
Really what this means is there was "Some" sort of system in place. Whether the players are guilty by association is a parsing of words. It does NOT change Jonathan Vilma's claim that he was defamed by Goodell and in fact, his lawsuit is continuing, though it is significantly weakened.
It also does not change the suspensions handed down to Sean Payton, Gregg Williams or Mickey Loomis.