NEW ORLEANS — Finding fault with nearly everyone tied to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case, from the coaches to Roger Goodell, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue tossed out the suspensions of four players Tuesday and condemned the team for obstructing the investigation.
In a surprising rejection of his successor’s overreaching punishments, Tagliabue wrote that he would “now vacate all discipline to be imposed upon” two current Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, and two players no longer with the club, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.
Tagliabue essentially absolved Fujita, but did agree with Goodell’s finding that the other three players “engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
It was a ruling that allowed both sides to claim victory more than nine months after the league first made “Saints bounties” a household phrase.
Vilma, suspended by Goodell for the entire current season, and Smith, suspended four games, have been playing for the Saints while their appeals were pending. Fujita is on injured reserve; Hargrove is not with a team.
Tagliabue, appointed by Goodell to oversee a second round of player appeals, criticized the Saints as an organization that fostered bad behavior and tried to impede the investigation into what the NFL said was a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars in payouts.