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Saints' Will Smith might play; Jonathan Vilma unlikely

The four players suspended for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints' "bounty" program scored a major victory Friday when their suspensions were overturned by a collective bargaining agreement appeals panel.

This is massive news at NFL headquarters. It's the type of story that will be picked up by non-sports news outlets, but it will have less of an impact on the field.

Of the four players suspended, just two should be able to immediately return to action. Those two are Saints defensive end Will Smith and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita -- and Smith has been led to believe by the Saints that he will be active Sunday against the Washington Redskins, a source close to the player told and NFL Network's Albert Breer. The Saints, however, will have to cut a player to make room for Smith on the 53-man roster.

A victory for the players

Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove scored a win Friday when a CBA appeals panel overturned their "bounty" scandal suspensions. **More ...**

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the season, continues to recover from a serious knee injury, but he isn't ready to return. The Times-Picayune reports that Vilma likely is headed for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which would knock him out for the first six weeks of the season.

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who was released by the Green Bay Packers in the preseason, remains a free agent. It wouldn't be a surprise if his NFL days are over.

Fujita missed most of the preseason with an injury, but he returned to practice just before his suspension kicked in. He should be ready to start.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur was asked about Fujita's availability if the suspension was overturned.

"I don't see a reason why he can't play," Shurmur said at his Friday news conference.

The NFL later granted the Browns a roster exemption, so the team could activate Fujita without having to make an immediate corresponding roster move, according to The Plain Dealer.

The statement released by the NFL following the panel's ruling indicated that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still is considering an "expedited determination" of possible discipline "for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule." But Goodell won't rule before Sunday's games, an NFL spokesman told The Times-Picayune.

So the players could wind up being suspended. For now, they are eligible. That should put Smith and Fujita back on the field this weekend. Hargrove and Vilma will continue to wait.

UPDATE: A source later told that it's unlikely Fujita will play on Sunday because he sat out three preseason games with an injury and missed all practices this week while serving his suspension. The report contradicts Shurmur's earlier statement before the suspension was overturned.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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