The NFL has dropped the hammer on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal as the team will not have had coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season and also loses two second-round draft picks (one this year, one next) and must pay a $500,000 fine.
New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis was also hit with an eight-game suspension and a $500,000 fine, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the Rams and who ran the bounty program, has been suspended indefinitely. Assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt was hit with a six-game suspension without pay as well.
The punishments come against a backdrop of looming litigation. A growing number of players have filed lawsuits against the NFL and various equipment makers, alleging the parties were insufficiently diligent in making player safety a priority. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he wants player safety to be a hallmark of his time as commissioner, pushing for rules changes that protect players on the field and levying heavy fines against players for hits ruled too savage.
The NFL revealed in early March an investigation which found more than 20 defensive players for the Saints participated in a “bounty” system from 2009 to ’11 which rewarded individuals with cash for harming opposing players. The league found that the cash pool reached $50,000 or more during the 2009 playoffs, and players were paid $1,500 for a “knockout” and $1,000 for a “cart-off” with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs. Money was provided primarily by players. The NFL said the amounts reached their height in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
All such payments violate league rules for non-contract bonuses. Williams administered the program, and the NFL says Payton was not a direct participant, yet was aware of the allegations and “failed to stop the bounty program.” Goodell will review Williams’ status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether to reinstate him.
The NFL Players Association formally requested that the league not punish the 22 to 27 players it cited in the scandal until the union had completed its independent investigation, which is underway, an NFLPA source told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche.
The Saints were considered a Super Bowl favorite on WagerWeb.com this season – in fact the Super Bowl returns to New Orleans next February. It’s not yet clear who will be the Saints’ head coach this season. And of course New Orleans is also looking at player suspensions.