Sean Payton (Sean Gardner/Getty)
Saints coaches and GM Mickey Loomis received varying suspensions, and the NFL fined the team and took away two draft picks after finding the coaches and players participated in a payment system to injure opposing players. Discipline for the players involved will be handed out in the future.
The NFL meted out its initial punishment on the New Orleans Saints’ coaches and management – enacting fines and suspensions in the wake of an investigation that found the Saints violated the league’s rule against “bounties” on players.
Discipline for individual players will be enacted in the future, but the NFL suspended head coach Sean Payton for one year, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely – his status will be reviewed at the end of the 2012 season. The league also fined the team $500,000 and took away the Saints’ second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
The Saints’ “bounty” program included payments for “knock-outs” and “cart-offs,” plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game, according to the league, over a three-year period, including the Saints’ NFC Championship overtime win against the Minnesota Vikings as New Orleans marched to the Super Bowl.
“At times, the bounties even targeted specific players by name,” the NFL said in a statement.
Former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who injured his ankle during a high-low hit from the Saints in the third quarter of that playoff game, was found to be one of the targets.
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised.
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious. When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”
Goodell met with many of the key individuals involved, the NFL said, and discussed the matter with leadership of the NFL Players Association before deciding on the punishment.
Discipline for the players involved is expected in the future.
“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. “While all club personnel are expected to play to win, they must not let the quest for victory so cloud their judgment that they willingly target their opponents and engage in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players.”
While NFL staff has interviewed people in connection with public allegations of bounty programs at other clubs, no evidence was established showing that the programs at other clubs involved targeting opposing players or rewarding players for injuring an opponent, the NFL said in its release.
In addition to Favre, the investigation found that over the three-year period of bounties being offered, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner were among the targets. According to those the NFL interviewed, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered a $10,000 payment to any player who knocked Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010. Although Favre hobbled to the sidelines after taking the hit that severely sprained his ankle, he returned for the Vikings’ next series.
According to NFL records, in each of the 2009-2011 seasons, the Saints were one of the top five teams in the league in roughing-the-passer penalties. In 2009 and 2011, the Saints were also in the top five teams in unnecessary roughness penalties; in 2010, the Saints ranked sixth in the category.
The Saints’ defensive players were assessed $15,000 in fines for fouls committed against opposing players in their Jan. 16, 2010 divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. The next week, in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, they were assessed $30,000 in fines for “four separate, illegal hits, several of which were directed against quarterback Brett Favre,” said the league’s release.
Vitt told the NFL he witnessed Williams handing out envelopes that he believed to contain cash, and Vitt acknowledged that “the defensive meeting preceding the 2010 NFC Championship Game may have ‘got out of hand’ with respect to Brett Favre.”
Payton denied knowledge of the program to NFL investigators twice before being shown an incriminating e-mail. After finding out the NFL was investigating allegations of bounty payments, Payton said he met with Williams and Vitt prior to meeting with the NFL to “make sure our ducks are in a row,” according to the NFL, but Payton apparently never inquired about the existence of the bounty program and never asked that Williams stop it.
Although Loomis was twice informed of NFL investigations into the bounty payments, he admitted that he never instructed the coaches to stop it.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.