Guilty as Sin

March 30, 2012 | Brandon Eyring

Unless you have been living under a metaphorical rock, you should be familiar with the Saints “Bounty-gate” scandal.

In case you were offended with the opening line because you do not understand much of the Saints current predicament, accept this apology of summarizing the essence of the situation.

The New Orleans Saints have been found guilty of initiating a pay-for-pain bounty system that targeted key opposing players from the seasons of 2009 to 2011 under the supervision of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. From league reports, “knockouts” were worth $1,500 and “cart-offs” $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.  The pool for the bounty program may have surpassed $50,000 at its height during the 2009 playoffs, the magical season New Orleans won the Super Bowl. To cite specific examples of wrongdoing, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game which the Saints ended up winning.

News of the bounty system directed by the Saints did not sit attractively with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The punishments handed out by the head honcho include Saints head coach Sean Payton suspended without pay for the 2012 season, which includes no contact with the team in any aspect. With his suspension, Payton will likely be forfeiting at least 6 million dollars in salary.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the bounty system’s ringleader, has been banned indefinitely from the league. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will review William’s case at the conclusion to the upcoming season to inquire if he is able to return to coach in the NFL. Among the rest of the suspensions to this point, Saints GM Mickey Loomis has been banned for the first eight games of the 2012 season, while assistant coach Joe Vitt received a six game suspension from the league for his role in the bounty system.

It is believed Payton and Loomis are the first head coach and general manager, respectively, to be suspended by the NFL for any reason. Payton’s suspension goes into effect on April 1, unless he appeals his punishment, in which case he will be able to keep his job for the length of the appeal. Goodell has made comments that he would expedite the hearing as well as his decision on the appeal.

Other punishments dished out by Roger Goodell include the New Orleans organization fined $500,000 and loss of 2012 and 2013 second round draft picks. Players that were actively involved in the pay-for-pain bounties will more than likely be receiving punishment after the NFLPA is through reviewing the case.

“While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players — including leaders among the defensive players — embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players,” Goodell said. This quote illustrates Goodell’s desire to dish out punishment to players.

Evidenced by his stiff penalties, Roger Goodell has taken a strong stand against the Saint’s bounty program, and anything that may resemble it. He has called bounties in football “particularly unusual and egregious” and “totally unacceptable.”

“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities,” said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. “No one is above the game or the rules that govern it.”

A major factor to the severe punishments to the Saints at this point includes Goodell being lied to. Sean Payton tried to keep the situation under wraps by denying the existence of any wrongdoing.

“When this first was raised over two years ago, there were denials. They frankly were not forthright with what was happening,” said Goodell, speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Florida. “And that continued. It continued even through our investigation into the past several weeks. “So it is a serious violation of our policy. It has zero tolerance in the NFL. And it is not acceptable to hide from the issue, continue to violate NFL policy and put players at risk. That is going to be dealt with very harshly.”

Reaction around the league has been similarly disappointed. Coaches have joined Goodell’s outstanding disapproval of the bounties and the need for the situation to be discussed.

“The commissioner wants the entire league to make sure it’s discussed — to go forward using it as an example, to stress there is no place for that in our league.” – Tom Coughlin, head coach of the world champion New York Giants.

“The precedent has been set by the commissioner and they need to understand that and it is not to be broached again. Going forward, we won’t have to go over these things again.” –Ron Rivera, head coach of the Carolina Panthers who play the Saints twice per year.

The impact of the penalties will have an immediate effect on the upcoming season. Without Payton, the Saints front office will need to not only find a replacement for their ousted head coach, but figure out who will be making personnel decision while GM Mickey Loomis is serving his suspension also. Prospects for the head coaching position could be within the organization. Current Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has NFL head coaching experience so he will be looked at strenuously. Another big name being thrown around is Bill Parcells, Sean Payton’s mentor and former boss.

NFL experts say that Parcells to the Saints makes a lot of sense considering his close friendship and Payton’s job security. Payton has already claimed he is 100% certain he will be coaching the Saints in 2013. With that said, Parcells may be an excellent option for a one year interim coach. At 71 years young, he is still a Hall Of Fame coach and more than likely still has the drive to prove that he can win football games.

The outcome of the Saint’s bounty program remains a developing story. Keep close attention to updates in the news about developments because this situation is one of the most controversial in league history. Compared to the other  major controversial scandal of this NFL era, the discipline for the Saints’ involvement in the bounty scheme is more far-reaching and unforgiving than what Goodell came up with in 2007, when the New England Patriots cheated by videotaping an opponent. Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000, stripped a first-round draft pick, and docked their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for what was known as “Spygate.”

The verdict is out on the Saints: Guilty as Sin.