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Overturned player suspensions a setback for NFL

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The NFL didn't want New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith on the field this weekend. The league didn't want linebacker Jonathan Vilma playing in the NFL this year. That's why Friday's appeal board ruling overturning the Saints' suspensions was such a setback for the league -- even if it's only temporary.

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This is a case of the collective bargaining agreement working. It builds in checks and balances, and the appeal board ultimately served as a final layer of protection for the players.

Friday's ruling does not end the saga. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can still go back and suspend the players if he proves there was intent to injure.

"Consistent with the panel's decision, Commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement. "Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."

There's no telling how long that will take, although the NFL did confirm Goodell will not make a determination before Week 1. There's no telling what the players will do in response if Goodell suspends them again. In short, this could take a long time. That's not what the NFL wanted either after nearly six months of bounty stories.

Goodell has made player health and safety a priority of his tenure as commissioner. That was a guiding principle to these suspensions, but we can't ignore the public relations aspects of the case.

The NFL wanted to send a clear message regarding bounties and the conduct of the Saints' players under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Friday's ruling muddied that message.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.
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