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Saints suspensions over bounty program lifted by appeals panel

The NFL says it will honor the internal panel's decision to overturn the Saints suspensions.
Vilma new orleans saints 2012 09 07Enlarge
Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints is seen during the team's game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Nov. 7, 2010 in Charlotte, N.C. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A three-member appeals panel has lifted the suspensions of four players in the NFL's bounty program investigation.

Friday's decision clears Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and Saints defensive end Will Smith to play this weekend if their teams desire, Sports Illustrated reported.

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Anthony Hargrove, the fourth player disciplined in the case, is an unsigned free agent.

The panel ruled that NFL 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 that paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents, according to The Associated Press.

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The case now goes back to Goodell, who could impose new penalties based on different violations, USA Today reported.

The players were suspended in May for their alleged roles in a system that put bounties on injuries to opposing players, including quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.

Vilma, facing a season-long suspension, defended himself against the accusations at the time.

On Friday, he tweeted: "Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin ..."

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