Dec 26, 2012 00:26 East: Bounty ruling doesn’t help New Orleans Saints East: Bounty ruling doesn’t help New Orleans Saints BY LES EAST| Advocate sportswriter Dec. 26, 2012 Comments Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed a victory Tuesday to the four players who had been punished as part of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. Nothing more, nothing less. Two current Saints — linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith — and two former Saints — injured Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and unemployed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove — had their penalties vacated by Tagliabue. In essence, Tagliabue acted as appellate judge in tossing out the players’ sentences while upholding a guilty verdict on them and agreeing with another on the Saints organization. It was a minirebuke of Commissioner Roger Goodell, who handed down the punishment, wrapped in an overall vindication of Tagliabue’s successor. To some degree at least, the players can claim vindication. Their names are less sullied than they were, they won’t serve suspensions — or lose salary — and they might gain damages down the road. We’ll see. So Tuesday was a good day for the four players. Nothing more, nothing less. Saints fans may have felt a brief emotional lift from Tagliabue throwing out the punishment meted out and staunchly defended by Goodell, who has been persona non grata with them throughout this entire process. But otherwise, Tagliabue’s 22-page ruling did nothing other than try to put this mess to rest. It certainly did nothing for New Orleans’ 5-8 football team. Fans can’t even rationalize that the team’s plummet from Super Bowl contender to also-ran can be blamed on Goodell’s improper punishment. As tempting as it may be, for Who Dats to blame Goodell rather than a flawed team holds less water than Tagliabue seems to think Goodell’s sanctions held. The disciplinary action against the players — the only aspect of Goodell’s ruling that Tagliabue vacated — had virtually nothing to do with this team’s poor performance. The only time Vilma missed was because he was rehabbing from a knee injury. Both he and Smith kept playing while their appeals were being processed. If the bounty scandal is a primary factor — or any factor at all — in the Saints’ fall-off this season it would have to be because of the yearlong suspension of coach Sean Payton. But Tagliabue concurred with Goodell’s findings in regards to Payton, former assistant Gregg Williams and the New Orleans organization. Nothing in Tagliabue’s report suggests anything improper about Goodell’s sanctions against Payton or his finding that the organization ran an illegal pay-for-performance program, covered it up and lied about it. So to whatever extent the Saints’ disappointing performance can be tied to fallout from the bounty program, the fault lies — as it always has — with the Saints and not with Goodell. Nothing more, nothing less.