Tagliabue, however, found that the players' conduct was detrimental to the league. He says they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including hard tackles - that could justify fines.
"Unlike Saints' broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects. My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines," Tagliabue said, according to Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL.
But the former commissioner said Tuesday that "this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma initially had been suspended the whole season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove received shorter suspensions.
The NFL said it respects Tagliabue's decision, which the organization said "underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters."