Saints Personnel Appeal Suspensions, Player Punishment Still To Come
This offseason’s biggest story–with all due respect to Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow–continues to be the New Orleans Saints’ three-year bounty program coming to light.
And it’s not going away anytime soon.
Almost two weeks ago, on March 21st, the NFL announced the punishments handed down to the Saints organization and team personnel by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt all received suspensions of various degrees. Payton got a season-long suspension, Loomis got eight games, and Vitt, six. The team was also fined $500,000 and forced to forfeit two second-round draft picks.
Now, all three, as well as the team, plan to appeal their penalties.
According to NFL Network’s Albert Breer, Goodell will meet with all four parties–who filed individual appeals–later this week. However, since Goodell handed down such harsh, unprecedented (but necessary) punishments nearly two weeks ago, the likelihood that the appeals will succeed to reduce, or eliminate, those punishments appears slim.
Goodell doesn’t seem to be backing down from his decision, either.
“This has been going on for three years,” said Goodell. “We’ve been investigating this, we’ve met with various personnel with the Saints. And for three years, they denied this was going on. It’s clear it was going on, and that’s one of the reasons the punishment is harsh.
“They denied it–they denied it repeatedly,” responded Goodell to why the investigation into the Saints’ bounty program–which began during their Super Bowl XLIV championship season–took as long as it did.
Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator who was the “ring-leader” of this bounty program for three years with the Saints, and now holds the same position with the St. Louis Rams, will not appeal his indefinite suspension. My assumption is that, since Goodell can reinstate Williams following this season, and since Williams’ behavior during his suspension will be a factor in his attempt to be reinstated, he does not want to create even more bad blood between himself and Goodell.
As for the players involved in the bounty program, their punishments will be coming soon.
NFL.com’s Steve Wyche reports that the NFL Players Association is still undergoing their own investigation, and that they plan to meet with NFL officials for further information. The NFLPA wants documents and other hard evidence from the NFL to prove that the findings the NFL has confirmed to be true, are indeed true. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wants the union to take their time in confirming a bounty system by the Saints to fulfill the union’s “obligation to ensure that our players have fair due process.”
However, it is not in the NFLPA’s best interest to recommend discipline for the players. Not only did Smith state it’s “not [the union’s] duty” to do so, but Wyche elaborates on how it could hurt players intending to appeal any suspensions handed down by Goodell.
“The NFLPA might not recommend discipline because there is a suspicion that it might not carry any weight in Goodell’s rulings,” writes Wyche. “If players appeal, any NFLPA recommendations for discipline also could work against them.” It is important to note that Goodell does not need to reach out to the NFLPA before choosing to suspend players.
Between 22 and 27 Saints players were involved in the team’s three-year bounty program, according to the NFL’s report. The only named player though, was linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma, who offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Unless one of the unnamed players turns out to have committed a more serious infraction, Vilma should receive the harshest of punishments amongst the players.
Now to put in my two cents regarding these matters, I do not believe Goodell is going to let up in this case, nor should he. The Saints team personnel and players supported a bounty system for three years, and when the NFL had investigators initially look into allegations of one following the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Payton and Co. denied it, lied about it, and continued to do so for two more seasons. So to me, the suspensions to Payton, Loomis and Vitt should stick, and players involved should be suspended at least two games, while players like Vilma should receive six to eight games (if not more).
But that’s just my opinion. In reality, Goodell will continue to lay down the law in the Saints bounty scandal. For starters, Goodell is trying to shape the environment of the NFL to one that has more care and concern for players and their health. And in the midst of multiple lawsuits by hundreds of former players suing the NFL, alleging that the league knew about the dangers of concussions but chose not to inform players, a case of a team running a bounty system that intentionally aims to harm players unfolds. So while Goodell wanted to make the league safer for players before the lawsuits, he has no choice now but to make an example of the Saints, showing the other 31 teams that if they support a bounty system, this is what will happen (at the very least). Also, Goodell has said that bounties “have no place in this game” at “any level of football” and has an ethical and moral responsibility to impose harsh punishments for those involved in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
It could be awhile before the dust settles in the Saints’ bounty scandal, but when it does, it will have effects that change the NFL forever. Everyone involved in the great game of football will see–if they have not already–that bounties are wrong, for so many reasons, and do not belong in football, or any other sport for that matter. The beginning has already had devastating effects, and the end, whenever it may come, should be no different.