This afternoon, NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell announced the sanctions against the New Orleans Saints for their “Bounty Program” and came down harder than what many felt he would yet in my opinion still fell short of addressing the total picture.
Reportedly, the bounty program was administered by the Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, paid Saints players and $1,000 for
“Cartoffs” and $1,500 for “Knockouts” with cartoffs being defined as a player being carried off the field and knockouts as a player not being able to return to the game. These numbers were doubled and tripled for playoff games. Notable injuries during the timeframe that this bounty program ran were to Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. This program was run with the knowledge of Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis.
In the statement from the League today, there were 15 points that were outlined in regards to the investigation. Some of those included:
1. Defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
2. Coach Williams now acknowledges that when he was first questioned about this matter in early 2010 he intentionally misled NFL investigators and made no effort to stop the program after he became aware of the league’s investigation.
3. Assistant Head Coach/Defense Joe Vitt acknowledged that he was aware of the program in 2009-2011. He admitted that, when interviewed in 2010, he “fabricated the truth” to NFL investigators and denied that any pay-for-performance or bounty program existed at the Saints.
4. When interviewed in 2012, Sean Payton claimed to be entirely unaware of the program, a claim contradicted by others. Further, prior to the Saints’ opening game in 2011, Coach Payton received an email from a close associate that stated in part, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 onRogers(sic).” When shown the email during the course of the investigation, Coach Payton stated that it referred to a “bounty” onGreen Bayquarterback Aaron Rodgers
5. In early 2010, Mr. Loomis advised Coach Payton that the league office was investigating allegations concerning a bounty program. Coach Payton said that he met with his top two defensive assistants, Coach Williams and Coach Vitt, in advance of the interview with league investigators and told them, “Let’s make sure our ducks are in a row.” Remarkably, Coach Payton claimed that he never inquired of Coach Williams and Coach Vitt as to what happened in the interviews, never asked them if a “pay-for-performance” or bounty program was in fact in place, and never gave any instructions to discontinue such a program.
6. Saints owner Tom Benson notified Mr. Loomis in January 2012 prior to the team’s participation in the playoffs that the league’s investigation had been reopened. Mr. Benson reiterated his position that a bounty program was unacceptable and instructed Mr. Loomis to ensure that if a bounty program existed at the Saints it would stop immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis responded to this direction by making only cursory inquiries of Coaches Payton and Williams. He never issued instructions to end the bounty program to either the coaching staff or the players.
Penalties handed down today by the NFL include the suspension of Sean Payton for one year, the suspension of Mickey Loomis for 8 games, the suspension of Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt for the first six games of the season. Gregg Williams received by far the harshest penalty with an indefinite suspension which will be reviewed by Commissioner Goddell at the end of the 2012 season. The Saints as a team incurred a $500,000 fine as well as losing a 2nd and 3rd round draft pick. In an additional statement Goddell said he will separately address potential sanctions for players and others with documented involvement in the bounty program.
In wandering around various message boards and on Twitter today, I found many comments stating things like “it is football, people get hurt” and “football is a violent sport” from claiming that the league overreacted with the suspensions. Even Saints QB Drew Bress, on his Twitter account stated, “I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this punishment”.
If Brees and the others would have looked at the statements from the NFL that are paraphrased above, it is obvious that it wasn’t just the bounty program that was the problem, it was that Saints management and even Payton himself were told multiple times that bounty programs were against NFL rules and that ‘if’ any programs existed, they should be stopped immediately. At no point did Payton comply with the directive and he even claimed to the NFL that he had no knowledge of programs.
By no means did the NFL go easy on the Saints coaching staff but part of me wonders if they went far enough. Drew Brees’ comments aside about the integrity of his Head Coach, the fact are the man hid from the NFL, a program whose sole purpose was to severely injure players on the other team. While I don’t advocate the criminal law system coming into matters such as this, if it were, a year for multiple acts of battery would probably be considered light.
When the player suspensions and fines are announced we will see just how serious the NFL is about the bounty programs. I would expect the same ‘indefinite suspension’ that Williams got for Defensive Captain Jonathon Vilma and hopefully a few more full-year suspensions. Yes, it is going to destroy any chances the Saints would have of contending this year but it also sends a clear message that the NFL has a zero tolerance policy for bounties.