Thursday, December 12, 2013
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS - While Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita and Will Smith are now all eligible to play after being reinstated by the NFL, it's still unclear if any will see action Sunday.
The suspensions of the players, plus unsigned free agent Anthony Hargrove, for their roles in New Orleans' pay-for-pain bounty scandal were lifted Friday by a three-member appeals panel and all were reinstated by the league.
The Saints announced Saturday that Smith has been activated from the reserve/suspended list. The team placed linebacker Vilma on Exempt -- Commissioner Permission. The roster move is an indicator that Vilma won't play in New Orleans' opener against Washington.
The 30-year-old Vilma -- who had been hit with a season-long suspension -- has not attended a Saints team meeting or practice since training camp started.
Smith, 31, will be a game-time decision.
The Saints likely have decided what they will do with the 6-foot-3, 282-pound defensive end -- who received a four-game suspension -- but probably won't make an announcement until the team is warming up. Smith took part in the majority of training camp and is healthy.
Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer had said this week that if Smith's suspension was lifted he likely would play against the Redskins.
The Cleveland Browns could use Fujita in their game against Philadelphia, but it is still unclear if they'll activate the 6-5, 250-pound linebacker.
With Chris Gocong out for the season, and his backup rookie James-Michael Johnson out this week (oblique) and Fujita suspended, the Browns were going to have to start rookie L.J. Fort against the Eagles. If they don't activate Fujita, they would go into the game with just two linebackers -- D'Qwell Jackson and Kaluka Maiava -- who have NFL experience.
Fujita stayed in Cleveland this week and practiced at nearby Baldwin-Wallace University -- less than a mile from the Browns' facility. On Friday he tweeted: "Weirdest thing about training at Baldwin-Wallace this week is hearing the whistles/horns at my team's practice, literally a qtr-mile away."
Fujita may not be fully recovered after hurting his leg in the preseason opener against Detroit on Aug. 10. He missed the Browns' final three exhibitions. He returned to practice on Aug. 28, but hasn't had much contact and the Browns may want to rest the 33-year-old despite his suspension being overturned.
Hargrove, docked eight games, was released last month by Green Bay and is not currently with a team.
The appeals panel consisted of retired federal Judge Fern Smith of San Francisco, retired federal Judge Richard Howell of New York, and Georgetown professor James Oldham. It met in New York last week to hear arguments from the NFL Players Association, which appealed Burbank's ruling that Goodell had the authority to hear and rule on the players' appeals of their suspensions. NFL lawyers had asked the panel to affirm Burbank's ruling, but the panel sided in large part with the union.
The decision likely means that consolidated federal lawsuits brought against the NFL by Vilma and the NFLPA on behalf of the other three players are on hold until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reissues punishment.
It also spared U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan from having to decide before Sunday on a temporary restraining order requested by the players.