The NFL released an absolutely shocking press release today, saying that between 22 and 27 New Orleans Saints defensive players had carried on a “bounty” program from 2009 through 2011, putting money in a pool and then paying it out not only for fumbles and interceptions but also for “cart-offs” ($1,000 when an opposing player was carted off the field) and “knockouts” ($1,500 when an opposing player couldn’t return). Bonuses were sometimes doubled or tripled during the playoffs.
The bounty program was apparently supervised by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis knew about it and did nothing about it apparently. Owner Tom Benson said he didn’t know.
Said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement: “The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players. The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.”
The NFL investigated this and now is about to lower the boom. There will be fines. Suspensions. (Williams, now the defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams, has admitted his role and will be seriously punished). The Saints face a likely loss of draft picks, too — the first one they hold in the 2012 draft, though, is only No.59 overall. Here’s New Orleans newspaper columnist Jeff Duncan’s reaction to the news in an interesting column that predicts the scandal will follow the Saints for years and forever tarnish the Super Bowl they won.
To me this is worse than “Spygate,” when New England was caught spying on opposing teams. This flies in the face of all the NFL’s safety improvements. The Saints look like they have been caught red-handed and they are about to pay a heavy price.
So will it shift the balance of power away from the Saints? (And as some of the “Scott Says” commenters are saying below, don’t you now have to wonder about Roman Harper’s late hit on Steve Smith this past season?)
A quicker way for the Saints to turn into a bad team would be for Drew Brees not to re-up with the Saints — and I think he will eventually re-sign with New Orleans. Remember, this is just about New Orleans defensive players, and the Saints’ remarkable offense apparently won’t be affected.
But the loss of at least one future first-round draft pick — which I believe will happen maybe in 2013, and I think this will be a multiple-draft-pick penalty before it’s all over — will damage the Saints. And defensive suspensions will further muddy the water. At the very least, the Saints will be a good team to play early in the season when suspensions would take effect (barring appeals).
Bottom line: The Saints just got clocked. Their feel-good Super Bowl story from 2009 will never feel nearly that good again. But more than that, the balance of power in the NFC is ripe for shifting. Atlanta and Carolina are the two teams most primed to do something about it if New Orleans falters.
And you know what? If all this is true — and the NFL’s report certainly makes it sound that way — I hope someone does take over for the Saints. Because what they allegedly did is absolutely disgusting. I’m not naive enough to think this doesn’t happen elsewhere in the NFL — although I have never heard of such a thing with the Panthers — but the Saints’ level of blatant rule violation is shocking.
In a statement released by the Rams, Williams (the “Pay-for-Pain” administrator and also an occasional contributor to the Saints’ bounty pool of money, according to the NFL) said: “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.”
Do you believe him? “We knew it was wrong while we were doing it…” Hmmm….. And so why didn’t Williams stop it again?
Because it was working, of course. That’s the sad part. The Saints won the Super Bowl when the bounty program was apparently at its height.