Some surprising late Friday news: A three-man arbitration panel has overturned the suspensions of Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.
The four defensive players, who were suspended for the entire season following the NFL's investigation into the Saints' bounty program, will be eligible to play on Sunday against the Redskins. Coaches Sean Payton and Gregg Williams are still suspended.
"Consistent with the panel's decision, commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule," goes the NFL's statement. "Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."
The NFL Players Association and the four players had claimed in consolidated lawsuits that Goodell abused his authority and followed improper procedures in disciplining the players for a program that, according to NFL investigators, paid improper cash bonuses for tackles that injured opponents. The lawsuits sought to have the punishment handed down by Goodell thrown out. The arbitration ruling renders the lawsuits moot at this point.
"Great news and exciting to hear," Saints linebacker Scott Shanle told ESPN's Ed Werder. "It's been a long process that didn't involve a lot of facts. These guys have stood strong and stood by what was right. Glad it paid off with this ruling."