RETURN TO SAINTHOOD: Jonathan Vilma has been reinstated for the 2012 football season. But is he out of the woods yet? Photo courtesy Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Sure, they didn’t come out and say it, but if you were of the belief that Goodell’s levying of suspensions on four players involved with Bounty Gate came off as slightly “tyrannical” in nature, yesterday’s ruling by the Collective Bargaining Agreement appeals panel certainly didn’t refute your case.

The panel, put in place as an arbitrator of sorts between players and their employer, the National Football League, overturned Goodell’s decision UNANIMOUSLY, paving the way for any of the four players to play as soon as this Sunday.

Of the four that were suspended, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, and Scott Fujita, only two of the players (Vilma and Smith) actually still play for the Saints. Fujita is out in Cleveland and Hargrove is a free agent after being let go by the Packers last month.

ROGER THAT: The CBA panel basically told Roger Goodell he overstepped his bounds by overturning the suspensions he handed down. Photo courtesy Alex Wong/Getty Images

And while the overturning of all four suspensions have been bundled together into one story by the media, each appeal has significantly different implications.

In the case of Jonathan Vilma, it’s a new lease on life for 2012. He had been suspended for the entire year and his championing of this cause that he and others had been wrongly punished puts him at the forefront of this victory. It’s probably too close to Sunday’s game against the Redskins for him to be prepared enough to play, but 15 games is a hell of a lot better than none.

Vilma, somewhat cheekily, took to Twitter following the ruling and tweeted “Victory is Mine!!!! -Stewie Griffin”, but that may be a bit premature. You see, Goodell can actually still suspend Vilma and the others; or, rather, re-suspend them. If he can prove that at some point during this whole Bountygate fiasco any of these players actually intended to injure fellow football players, it would be grounds for suspension that were not covered in the decision on Friday.

The other active Saint, Will Smith, was not suspended for the entire season, just 8 games. Consequently, he actually has been allowed to be around the team and probably WILL play in Sunday’s season opener in New Orleans. And, facing a dynamic rookie quarterback in Robert Griffin III, that is very, very good news for the Saints faithful.

Fujita, however, is in a bit of an awkward position. Since he hasn’t been practicing with the team, that would make him ineligible to play by Pat Shurmur’s team rules. However, when asked about the situation and the possible availability of Fujita on Sunday, Shurmur simply said, “I don’t see why not.” While the Browns would probably love to have Fujita back, it probably won’t make much of a difference this weekend as the team will still be heavy underdogs to the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the biggest victim in all this is Anthony Hargrove. He is the only player, whether it be directly because of his looming suspension or a combination of that and other factors, who finds himself unemployed heading into the first week of professional football. It’ll be interesting to see, now that he is free of any disciplinary action for now, if any teams come calling. If not, it would then be EQUALLY interesting to see if Goodell’s now-ruled illegal suspension of Hargrove can be seen as some sort of slanderous act to ruin his employability. If that were the case, I’m sure another lawsuit would follow.

Speaking of Goodell, he remains the 500-lb. gorilla in the room. His rulings often handed down with an iron fist have made him a very polarizing figure. Some see him as a commissioner who, for once, has the brass to come down harshly on entitled players, but most see him as a power-hungry man who has time and again overstepped his bounds. If he chose to try and re-suspend any of these players in the wake of this successful appeal, it certainly wouldn’t do his reputation any favors.

Quite frankly, Goodell should let bygones be bygones. The Saints have already taken more than enough of a beating for letting the whole Bounty program run unchecked, and the man who started the whole thing, Gregg Williams, isn’t even in the NFL let alone working for New Orleans. Even if Vilma and Smith do play, the decision handed down Friday won’t help Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis or Joe Vitt out with their suspensions, and, at this point, those penalties still look like they will do the most harm to this team.

However, there is no overturning public opinion. Goodell helped a little in making the Saints look somewhat like victims, but a real air of villainy still looms over this organization. Justified or not, I’m sure there will be plenty of NFL fans cheering against the Saints. But, if you ask New Orleans fans, they’ll be sure to remind you that it wasn’t that long ago that large sections of their city were underwater. In that context, a little booing certainly doesn’t seem so bad.

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NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure you follow him @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!