In what comes as a surprise eleventh hour decision, four current and former New Orleans Saints players have had their suspensions rescinded, and will be eligible to play on Sunday. This will likely only result in Cleveland's Scott Fujita (3 games) and former Ohio State standout Will Smith (4 games), who is still with the Saints, seeing action on Sunday. Anthony Hargrove (8 games) is currently without a team, and the alleged ring-leader in a 2009 Bounty Scandal, Jonathan Vilma (season-long), is injured, and will not play. The Saints General Manager and coaches suspended in the wake of this scandal were not part of the appeals process.
According to the Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns have been granted a roster exemption, so they will not have to cut anyone to make room for Fujita, but they can still only dress 46 for their opener with the Eagles at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With the lifted suspension, the Browns linebacker will recover $214,705 in previously forfeited wages. This news may not have come as a surprise to the 33 year-old entering his eleventh season, who told ESPN's David Fleming last week:
"The only reasonable thing for Roger (Goodell) to do now is admit mistakes were made."
After today's favorable news, Fujita added:
"I'm overwhelmed with all the support. Thank you so much everyone. Can't tell you how much it means to me."
For now, this is a temporary verdict, handed down by a 3-member Appeals Panel, who determined that the decision to suspend players for the pool of money issued for big plays in 2009 was not Goodell's decision to make, but the ball is in his court to determine whether discipline should be issued for playing with the intent to injure. Goodell can make that decision at any time, but the league office has reported that it will not happen prior to this weekend's action.
Fujita signed with the Browns as a free-agent before the 2009 season, after spending the first eight years of his career with the Chiefs and Saints. He has played in 19 games over the last two season, totaling 73 tackles and 3.5 sacks, which all came in the 2009 season. While no one would define Fujita as a star, his availability will certainly be critical to the Browns, who are severely thin at Linebacker after being decimated by injury in the weeks leading up to the 2012 season.
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