NEW ORLEANS —
The former commissioner did not entirely exonerate the players, however.
He said Vilma and Smith participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays — including hard tackles — while Hargrove, following coaches’ orders, helped to cover up the program when interviewed by NFL investigators in 2010.
“My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines,” the ruling said. “However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”
Tagliabue said he decided, in this particular case, that it was in the best interest of all parties involved to eliminate player punishment because of the enduring acrimony it has caused between the league and the NFL Players Association. He added that he hoped doing so would allow the NFL and union to move forward collaboratively to the more important matters of enhancing player safety.
“To be clear: this case should not be considered a precedent for whether similar behavior in the future merits player suspensions or fines,” his ruling said.