NEW ORLEANS —
Goodell, meanwhile, stood by the substance of the investigation began when allegations were first brought to the league's attention three seasons ago.
"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental (to the game) are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases," Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.
Goodell's new ruling comes about a month after an appeal panel vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds during Week 1 of the regular season. The panel did not address the merits of the league's investigation. It merely asked Goodell to clarify to extent to which his ruling involved conduct detrimental to the league, which he has the sole authority to handle, and salary cap violations resulting from bonus payments, which would have to be ruled upon by an arbitrator other than the commissioner.
"In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story," Goodell wrote. "In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play."
Only Smith and Fujita have played this season. Vilma has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and hopes to return in two weeks when the Saints play at Tampa Bay. The Saints linebacker is on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the season and Goodell's new ruling said that Vilma can be paid for that period.