As the suspended NFL players Will Smith (New Orleans Saints) and Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns) are preparing to play on Sunday, free agent Anthony Hargrove is still looking for an opportunity to join a team. The leader and most vocal player of his disproval of the whole “Bountygate” situation was Jonathan Vilma, who the Saints put on PUP (physically unable to perform) so he can continue to rehab his knee. While the players are temporally reinstated, the possibility of suspensions still hangs over their heads.

Where is all the evidence? What will Commissioner do, reduce the suspensions in half or fight the system and stay strong to the end? How damaging are the documents and email information that they supposedly had against these players? Is the NFL protecting key witnesses in this case because the fear of retaliation by players and public? And why weren’t the targeted 20-25 players previously under investigation getting their hands slapped? Are some of them key witnesses? And what is the NFL’s plan moving forward?

Some of that was answered yesterday when the statement by the NFL’s Office of Communications released their stand on the appeals panel ruling on the “Bountygate.”

In light of some confusion surrounding the ruling of the CBA appeals panel, it is important to understand what the panel did and did not rule. The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority.

The panel’s decision asks no more than that the commissioner clarify his earlier rulings to ensure — and to clearly state — that no part of the prior ruling was attributable to matters within Professor Burbank’s authority (salary cap violations). It does not require the commissioner to take additional evidence or to “reweigh” the evidence currently in the record. The panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation, did not exonerate anyone involved, and did not say that the commissioner “overstepped his authority.”

The panel made clear that the commissioner had full authority to impose discipline on the players so long as the discipline was attributable to conduct detrimental to the league, rather than “undisclosed compensation.” The panel asked only that he clarify that he was not relying on the “undisclosed” nature of the financial incentives in imposing the discipline. In the meantime, the panel put the suspensions on hold.

With the players able to compete and currently make a living by going back to work, the ball was thrown back into the court of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell for further review. The key part of the released statement by the league was;

the panel made clear that the commissioner had full authority to impose discipline on the players so long as the discipline was attributable to conduct detrimental to the league, rather than “undisclosed compensation.”

In the end, let’s see the direction the league takes once the matter is finalized and the dust settles. This will be very interesting, not only who gets suspended and on what basis, but for how long as far as weeks or game checks? This very process that these four players just went through should be the same process that should be installed for all suspensions. For fairness of due process, an independent panel, not governed by the league should be asked to review situations like “Bountygate” and any other situations deemed necessary.

Information provided by NFL Office of Communications