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Saints regroup, some angrily, after suspensions

METAIRIE, La. -- Scott Fujita worried aloud that his opinion about the suspensions of New Orleans Saints teammates Deuce McAllister and Will Smith could get him fined by the NFL.

The linebacker couldn't hold his tongue for long, however.

"I don't know how much of an opinion we're even allowed to have anymore when it comes to NFL issues, but obviously I completely disagree with it. I think it's stupid. I think it's wrong. I'm not surprised, though, in the least bit," Fujita said Wednesday. "The league says they look at the steroid policy every year in the offseason. This is one of those years when there's going to be a lot of pressure on them to look at it closely because it's just not right."

McAllister, Smith and Saints defensive end Charles Grant, who already was out for the year with an injury, were among six NFL players suspended for the final four games of the season under the league's steroid policy. The players were not alleged to have used steroids. They tested positive for the diuretic Bumetanide, which is banned because it could potentially mask the use of steroids.

The players appealed, saying the dietary supplement they used, StarCaps, did not list the banned substance as an ingredient. McAllister also said he had consulted an NFL hotline set up to advise players on whether certain dietary supplements are permitted and was never told of the potential problem with StarCaps.

The suspensions mark yet another setback for the Saints, who've had more than a dozen season-ending injuries and now must deal with the loss of their starting defensive end in Smith, and the club's career rushing and touchdown leader in McAllister.

Smith's suspension brings the number of starting defensive players lost for the season to four, including both cornerbacks (Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter) and both defensive ends, including Grant.

Grant (torn triceps) will be able to serve his suspension while on injured reserve, but won't be paid for the last month of the season.

The timing of the suspensions couldn't be much worse for New Orleans, which at 6-6 sits in last place in the NFC South and likely must run the table to sneak into the playoffs. To fill the two roster spots opened up by the suspensions, New Orleans signed defensive end Rob Ninkovic from Miami's practice squad and free-agent safety Terrence Holt, who spent a couple weeks with Chicago but has yet to see action this season.

Fullback Mike Karney, who has been blocking for McAllister since 2004, said he was devastated when he learned of the suspensions Tuesday evening.

"It's been tough to take all the injuries as a whole the entire year for everybody, but to have this, it hurts," Karney said.

Karney said he also hated to see undue harm done to the reputation of players like McAllister, who is widely admired not just as a football player but also as a businessman and philanthropist throughout Louisiana and his home state of Mississippi. McAllister was walking into a charity event for children in Mississippi when the league announced the suspensions.

"In my opinion, something's got to be done with this policy, because you look at a guy like Deuce, last night he's doing a charity function and he's got to take these questions and now he's going to have to tell these kids about the situation, because now everyone thinks he was masking something -- a steroid -- but he wasn't," Karney said. "None of these guys were, and that hurts people's reputation and credibility."

Karney said he sent McAllister "a pretty long and emotional text just to tell him I'm here for him and appreciated everything he's done, because no one knows what the future holds for him here."

McAllister, who turns 30 this month, has had reconstructive surgery on both knees. Because of the way his salary is currently structured, keeping him next season would cost the Saints about $7.3 million against the salary cap.

McAllister's role with the Saints has diminished markedly since 2006, when he had his fourth 1,000-yard season and helped the Saints advance to the NFC championship game. Although he continues to produce when called upon, he had only three carries for 13 yards in the Saints' loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday.

McAllister said he intends to remain in the New Orleans area while suspended to follow through on charitable holiday season commitments, including one on Thursday.

McAllister also noted that he and Smith could return for the playoffs should the Saints rally to make it that far. But if they don't, the running back said he has no intention of retiring after this season and did not want Saints fans to necessarily think of his suspension as, "Goodbye."

"You never know what's going to happen down the road," he said by phone to The Associated Press. "I don't want anybody to start speculating as far as next year, what's going to happen as far as salary, et cetera. And if we make the playoffs, then you'll definitely see me there."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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