For nearly a month, Will Smith has had the chance to look up at a banner in the New Orleans Saints practice facility, one that shows head coach Sean Payton glaring down and bearing the words “Do Your Job.”
But Smith knew that come Week 1 of the NFL season, he wouldn’t be able to do his job. As a member of the Suspended Four, Smith was set to serve his four-game penalty along with Jonathan Vilma (season-long), Scott Fujita (three games) and Anthony Hargrove (eight games). And then Friday happened.
A three-person appeals panel overturned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspensions, taking umbrage not with the penalties themselves, but what they were for.
The panel voided the suspensions, meaning Smith suddenly is eligible to again do his job. The panel saw two issues – one dealing with conduct detrimental to the league, the other a salary cap issue stemming from the pay-for-performance aspect.
They punted back to Goodell, giving him the right to keep the suspension intact as long as he was penalizing the players for conduct and not greenbacks that circumvented the salary cap. In other words, don’t get too comfortable with seeing Smith on the field for the Saints after this Sunday.
The panel hasn’t absolved the Saints of wrongdoing. It only has said that Goodell wasn’t necessarily clear in his reasoning.
Meanwhile, Judge Ginger Berrigan said late Friday that she was stepping aside now that the panel has vacated the suspensions. But she has made clear in previous filings that she’s not sure Goodell’s actions didn’t violate freedoms granted under the Constitution.
This kicks open one door that should be seriously looked at by both sides.
Settlement talks should be re-opened. It’s the only real solution at this point. Vilma’s suspension should be reduced and he should be allowed to rehabilitate at the Saints facility. Smith, Fujita and Hargrove all should see their suspensions reduced.
It’s the only right answer.