The NFL has decided against enforcing four-game suspensions of Charles Grant and Will Smith at this time, opening the way for the New Orleans Saints' starting defensive ends to play this week and possibly the whole 2009 season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said it would be unfair to suspend the two Saints players now, when the league has been blocked from suspending Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams for the same offense while their case is pending in Minnesota state court.
"This situation presents several unique and narrow aspects that I believe call for us to put the good of the game ahead of questions of discipline," Goodell said. "Considerations of fairness, uniform application of our policies, and competitive integrity all support deferring the suspensions at this time," Goodell said. "I am not prepared to treat players differently when the same conduct is involved."
The NFL Players Association released a statement following the decision.
"We respect the Commissioner's decision to be in the best interest of the game and our players, but we will never be silent when our players are mistreated by a system that operates unfairly."
The four players, along with former Saints running back Deuce McAllister, all fought their suspensions last season after they tested positive for the banned diuretic bumetanide, which can be used to mask the presence steroids.
The players argued that the league knew bumetanide had been detected in the over-the-counter weight-loss supplement, StarCaps, but failed to notify players who were using it. Bumetanide was not a listed ingredient in the product.
David Cornwell, an attorney for the players, said in statement that Smith, Grant and McAllister "appreciate Commissioner Goodell's decision not to suspend them for unknowingly ingesting a banned diuretic."
"We are particularly grateful for the commissioner's sensitivity to the fairness issue," Cornwell continued. "This has been a challenging process for everyone. While the NFLPA and the NFL must now work together to resolve the unintended, broader issue of conflicting state laws, DeMaurice Smith's support for Deuce, Will, and Charles was invaluable and is greatly appreciated."
The NFLPA sued on the players' behalf in federal court in Minnesota, delaying enforcement of the suspensions beyond the end of last season.
In May, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed the NFLPA's lawsuit and several claims in the Williamses' case -- then sent two claims involving Minnesota workplace laws back to state court.
Last Friday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Magnuson's decisions. Goodell said the NFL will vigorously contest the remaining state law claims in the case.
The commissioner also said he hoped the players union would begin working with the league to resolve the matter now that federal courts "have rejected the NFLPA's improper challenge to our collectively bargained program."
"We hope the union will join us in ensuring that these principles of fairness and uniformity are preserved," Goodell said. "The union's unfortunate refusal to do so thus far has created needless uncertainty for our program. This is an important issue not only for the NFL, but for all sports and everyone who cares about the integrity of sports competition."
The Saints did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Players had the day off on Tuesday and were scheduled to return to practice on Wednesday and play at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.