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Suspensions Of Ex-Jet Jonathan Vilma, Three Others Lifted In Connection With ‘Bountygate’

Jonathan Vilma (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Jonathan Vilma (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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NEW ORLEANS (CBSNewYork/AP) — The suspensions of ex-Jet Jonathan Vilma and three other players in the NFL’s bounty investigation were lifted on Friday by a three-member appeals panel, and the league reinstated those players a few minutes later.

The panel said that Commissioner Roger Goodell did not have jurisdiction to hear the players’ appeals of their punishment for their roles in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. The program allegedly paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

While the ruling allows Saints linebacker Vilma — banned for the 2012 season — Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to play immediately, it does not permanently void their suspensions.

Still, the ruling comes just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season, and is a setback for Goodell and the league.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that Goodell would “make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed” for violating the league’s bounty rule.

“Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend,” Aiello said.

Vilma tweeted: “Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin”

Vilma was drafted 12th overall by the Jets in 2004 and played with Gang Green until 2007. During his tenure in New Jersey, the University of Miami alum was the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004 and the NFL combined tackles leader in 2005. He was selected to the Pro Bowl that same season.

The panel’s decision states that Goodell cannot suspend the players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays, but he can still suspend the players if he can prove that they intended to injure opponents. Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case that they never intended to injure opposing players.

“Whether the commissioner tries to readdress the situation or not is his call,” said Peter Ginsberg, Vilma’s attorney. “We are certainly hoping the appeals board has made it clear that the commissioner tried to grab jurisdiction and impose penalties over an area he does not have oversight. … The factual record in the court makes it clear he has acted in a biased and inappropriate manner.”

The Saints open their season at home against Washington on Sunday, while the Browns host Philadelphia.

Not many people expected this decision. Do you agree with it? Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)