IN A SHARP rebuke to his successor's handling of the NFL's bounty investigation, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in a case that has preoccupied the league for almost a year.

Tagliabue, who was appointed by commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeals, still found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including bone-jarring hits - that could merit fines. But he stressed that the team's coaches were very much involved.

The entire case, he said, "has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints organization."

The team's "coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL's investigation," the ruling said.

Tagliabue oversaw a second round of player appeals to the league in connection with the cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-11. The players initially opposed his appointment.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been given a full-season suspension, while defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove each received shorter suspensions.

Tagliabue cleared Fujita of conduct detrimental to the league.

Noteworthy * 

The Cowboys paid tribute to Jerry Brown at a private memorial in Dallas that included nose tackle Josh Brent, who is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the one-car accident that killed his teammate.

Tony Romo, Jerry Jones and other players, executives and staff members attended the service. Brent arrived earlier than most in a van with several other people and hugged Brown's mother before walking into the building.

In other news, Dallas released cornerback Vince Agnew and signed cornerback Michael Coe off waivers from Miami.

* Pittsburgh suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for conduct detrimental to the team. Mendenhall has been inactive for the last two games after fumbling in a loss to Cleveland on Nov. 25.

* Chicago kicker Robbie Gould will miss the rest of the season after injuring his left calf. The Bears signed veteran kicker Olindo Mare to a 1-year contract.

* Receiver Braylon Edwards is back with the New York Jets, picked up on waivers from Seattle a week after bashing the Jets for their treatment of his friend, quarterback Mark Sanchez.

* New England placed wide receiver Donté Stallworth on injured reserve with an ankle injury.