The National Football League has interrupted this season to bring yet another twist to the "Bountygate" drama involving the New Orleans Saints by "reaffirming the discipline" against the four players whose original suspensions were vacated by an appeals panel on Sept. 7.
According to a league announcement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "adjusted certain aspects of the penalties following recent meetings with each of the players, the first time those players had agreed to speak directly to the NFL to give their side of the story."
The original punishments included a full season for linebacker Jonathan Vilma, four games for defensive end Will Smith, three games for linebacker Scott Fujita and eight games for lineman Anthony Hargrove.
Penalties on three of the four players were reduced in some fashion by Goodell.
Vilma's suspension is still for entire season, but he will be able to collect his pay for the six weeks he already has been on the physically unable to perform list. His original sentence called for no pay for all 17 weeks of the season.
Fujita, now the Cleveland Browns, had his suspension reduced to from three games to one.
Hargrove, who is currently a free agent, will receive credit for serving his suspension during the first five weeks of this season. However, if he signs with a team, he will then need to serve the final two games of his suspension.
Smith's four-game suspension was unchanged, according to the league announcement.
This latest decision was made in response to the CBA Appeals Panel that asked Goodell to clarify whether any of it was related to salary cap violations. Such a determination would be beyond the scope of the commissioner's power.
However, the commissioner can penalize players and coaches if it is determined they purposely hurt players.
"For decades, the commissioner of the NFL has been empowered, including in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players, to impose discipline on any individual employed by the NFL or its clubs that engages in specific conduct that he determines with due process to be conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. This responsibility was most recently affirmed in the 2011 CBA," the league statement read.
The National Football League Players Association responded to this new action with a brief statement:
"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake. We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players' rights with vigilance."
In letters to each player and a memorandum to the clubs, Goodell clarified that his decision was based entirely on his finding that the bounty program represented conduct detrimental to the league and professional football.
According to the league announcement, the Saints' bounty program operated over a three-year period and offered incentives to players for plays including "cart-offs" and "knock-outs," which were plays that caused injuries to opponents.
"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases," Goodell wrote in the memorandum to clubs.
"In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story. In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play."
This latest action did not address suspensions to head coach Sean Payton (full season), former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, assistant coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis.