Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saints Got Too Tough Of A Punishment? Naw, It Isn't Enough

Well, besides the Tim Tebow to the Jets fiasco, the big news coming out of the NFL is the toughness of the Saints penalties in regard to the bounties that they put on opponents.  The Saints received the following punishment:  2 second round picks: one in 2012 and one in 2013.  A fine of $500,000.  That is it for the club.  For the individuals, Head Coach Sean Payton received a suspension for the 2012 season starting April 1st.  GM Mickey Loomis is suspended for the first 8 games of the season.  Current St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinately starting immediately.  Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first 6 games of the season.  While it seems that the penalty is stiff, I believe that the Saints got lucky that the entire rulebook wasn't thrown at them.

Here are the findings of the league's investigation:

1. The Saints defensive team operated a pay-for-performance/bounty program, primarily funded by players, during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons. Under that program, players regularly made cash “donations” to a pool, and were “fined” for mental errors, loafing, penalties, and the like. At least one assistant coach (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) also occasionally contributed to the pool. There is no evidence that any club money was contributed to the program.

2. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries. All such payments are against league rules. Payments also were made for plays on which opposing players were injured. In addition, specific players were sometimes targeted. The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams – Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner. Multiple sources have confirmed that several players pledged funds toward bounties on specific opposing players, with defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offering $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.

3. Coach Williams acknowledged that he designed and implemented the program with the assistance of certain defensive players. He said that he did so after being told by Saints Head Coach Sean Payton that his assignment was to make the defense “nasty.” Coach Williams described his role as overseeing record keeping, defining payout amounts, deciding on who received payouts, and distributing envelopes with cash to players who “earned” rewards.

4. 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. In the January 16, 2010 divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saints defensive players were assessed $15,000 in fines for fouls committed against opposing players. The following week, in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saints defensive players were assessed $30,000 in fines for four separate illegal hits, several of which were directed against quarterback Brett Favre.

5. Coach Williams now acknowledges that when he was first questioned about this matter in early 2010 he intentionally misled NFL investigators and made no effort to stop the program after he became aware of the league’s investigation.

6. Coach Williams further confirmed that the program continued during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and that he occasionally contributed funds to the pool in each of those seasons.

7. Assistant Head Coach/Defense Joe Vitt acknowledged that he was aware of the program in 2009-2011. He admitted that, when interviewed in 2010, he “fabricated the truth” to NFL investigators and denied that any pay-for-performance or bounty program existed at the Saints.
See more below the fold.

8. Coach Vitt said one of his primary roles was to monitor the activity of Coach Williams. This was based on the direction of Coach Payton, who apparently had less than full confidence in Coach Williams. Despite Coach Vitt’s knowledge of the bounty program, his understanding of the terms “knock-out” and “cart-off,” his witnessing Coach Williams handing out envelopes that he believed to contain cash, and his acknowledgement that the defensive meeting preceding the 2010 NFC Championship Game may have “got out of hand” with respect to Brett Favre, Coach Vitt claimed he never advised either Coach Payton or General Manager Mickey Loomis of the “pay-for-performance/bounty” program.

9. A summary prepared following a Saints preseason game included the statement, “1 Cart-off – Crank up the John Deer (sic) Tractor” in reference to a hit on an opposing player. Similar statements are reflected in prepared documents or slides in connection with other games in multiple seasons. A review of the game films confirms that opposing players were injured on the plays identified in the documents.

10. When interviewed in 2012, Sean Payton claimed to be entirely unaware of the program, a claim contradicted by others. Further, prior to the Saints’ opening game in 2011, Coach Payton received an email from a close associate that stated in part, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic).” When shown the email during the course of the investigation, Coach Payton stated that it referred to a “bounty” on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

11. In early 2010, Mr. Loomis advised Coach Payton that the league office was investigating allegations concerning a bounty program. Coach Payton said that he met with his top two defensive assistants, Coach Williams and Coach Vitt, in advance of the interview with league investigators and told them, “Let’s make sure our ducks are in a row.” Remarkably, Coach Payton claimed that he never inquired of Coach Williams and Coach Vitt as to what happened in the interviews, never asked them if a “pay-for-performance” or bounty program was in fact in place, and never gave any instructions to discontinue such a program.

12. In January 2012, prior to the Saints’ first playoff game of the 2011 season, Coach Payton was advised by Mr. Loomis that the league office had reopened the investigation. Coach Payton made a cursory inquiry but took no action to ensure that any bounty program was discontinued.

13. General Manager Mickey Loomis was not present at meetings of the Saints defense at which bounties were discussed and was not aware of bounties being placed on specific players. Mr. Loomis became aware of the allegations regarding a bounty program no later than February 2010 when he was notified of the investigation into the allegations during a meeting with NFL Executive Vice President-Football Operations Ray Anderson. He was directed to ensure that any such program ceased immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis did not do enough to determine if a pay-for-performance/bounty program existed or to end any such program that did exist.

14. Saints owner Tom Benson notified Mr. Loomis in January 2012 prior to the team’s participation in the playoffs that the league’s investigation had been reopened. Mr. Benson reiterated his position that a bounty program was unacceptable and instructed Mr. Loomis to ensure that if a bounty program existed at the Saints it would stop immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis responded to this direction by making only cursory inquiries of Coaches Payton and Williams. He never issued instructions to end the bounty program to either the coaching staff or the players.

15. There is no evidence that Saints ownership had any knowledge of the pay-for-performance or bounty program. There is no evidence that any club funds were used for the program. Ownership made clear that it disapproved of the program, gave prompt and clear direction that it stop, and gave full and immediate cooperation to league investigators.

I can never watch Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" without thinking that the seedy side of football portrayed in that movie is probably true.  Anyways, let me explain why I believe that the Saints should have received even more in the way of penalties.

First, a question or two.  How can the NFL decide that the organization isn't at fault when the people in positions of power within that organization are the people that knew about the bounties and determined that they were acceptable?  Or how is it that the Vice President of Football Operations or the President of the club doesn't ask questions about this in 2009 when the NFL is doing an investigation?  Wouldn't it figure that there are allegations that the team as well as the NFL should look at and ensure aren't happening?  It seems to me that the power structure in the Saints organization willingly looked the other way in order to try and keep this thing quiet and away from the NFL offices.  You have a Super Bowl championship and are a perennial playoff team with the opportunity to get to the Super Bowl year after year.  I think that there are more people that knew about this, but nothing could be proven.  However, enough was proven to me that the additional penalties would have been put into place if I were handing out the punishment.  The 2013 1st Round pick would be taken away.  An additional $500,000 would be put on the fine for a total of $1 Million.  The Franchise Tag would not be available for the Saints in 2013.  Also all suspensions would start on April 1st without pay.  In addition, the Saints organization would be put on probation for 2 years.  Sean Payton has blackened the eye of the Saints twice now and lied to the NFL twice now.  The Saints haven't taken care of that situation, so the league office should ensure that the club decides to do so.

As for the individual punishments, the indefinite suspension of Gregg Williams is a no-brainer.  He has had one form of bounty or another for over a decade going through Buffalo, Washington, Tennessee, and New Orleans.  The earliest that I would have him come back into the league is 2015 and also have a team use something like the NCAA does with a "show cause" hearing.  This man has flaunted his breaking the rules forever.  Time for him to get a punishment that deals with that flaunting of those said rules.

As for Head Coach Sean Payton, he should be qualified under a repeat violator rule.  Remember back when Sean was breaking into the Training Room and stealing Vicodin from the team.  He lied about that to NFL security according to reports.  And the Saints slapped him on the wrist for that.  Now he knows about the bounty program, has people outside the team emailing him saying that they are putting money on a bounty through the Saints, lies to the NFL offfices, NFL Security, and the commissioner.  Provides the ability of Saints employees and players to lie to the NFL and is now wondering why he got punished so badly?  He believes that he is above the law with that thought.  He should now know that he is not above the law.  I would also put him on probation for 3 years.  He has 2 strikes and the 3rd should be an indefinate suspension.

Joe Vitt would also have a year of suspension.  Here is another person that lied to the NFL about what was going on.  And another inconsistency about the stories between the principles of this story.  Vitt says he was to keep tabs on Williams for Payton.  But for some reason, in all the times that he saw Payton, or Loomis, Vitt says that he never told Payton or Loomis about the bounty program.  If that is true, then the Saints have the right to fire Vitt right now with cause.  But they aren't.  In fact, they were going to have him as interim Head Coach while Sean Payton was out with his suspension.  Something smells rotten from New Orleans in this situation concerning Payton and Vitt and their stories.  A possible Quid Pro Quo?

Remember there is another shoe to drop here.  The 22-25 players that were in this program are next to have penalties put on them.  And the first time that a player that receives punishment from the league for this cries about how it is unfair for them to be punished so harshly, I am going to want to slap him upside the head.  All I have heard from the players is that the NFL doesn't care about player safety.  Well, this proves that the players don't care about player safety.  And the argument that comes from the Pittsburgh Steelers players about how the league hammers the players and protects the coaches and organizations is now proven false.  Hopefully, this episode cuts down on the player whining and the organizations deciding to be outlaws in following the rules of the league/.


Anonymous said...

Considering we're talking about the integrity of the game, I'm expecting a few players getting the whole year off unpaid. I'm thinking along the lines of what happened to Paul Hornung and Alex Karras fifty years ago with their gambling.

Zebster said...

The worst of this to me is the targeting for injury, which is different than the bounties that everyone knows about who's played the game; and then the fact that they were caught, didn't stop doing it and then lied about it.
Brent, I added a fold to this because it was so long. Hope you don't mind.

Brent said...

I don't mind. I was going to add a fold and then forgot because I needed to hurry and post to get somewhere.

Add that Warren Sapp has a source that says that Jeremy Shockey was the 1st Saint to tell the NFL about this and he said it on-air is going to paint a target on Shockey for Saints fans, players and members of the organization. Mike Florio from PFT says that Shockey wasn't the initial source for the NFL. I cannot wait to see who actually was the person who talked to the NFL.

littlecuz said...

First off I don't see a problem with the kangaroo court thing, it's common in baseball and the fines usually go to a charity. Nor do I see the issue the league has with players pooling money for "good plays" aka fumble recoveries, interceptions, et al. I can see them not wanting team money involved, but players earn the money, they should be able to spend it how they will, as long as it's legal of course.

However the bounty thing is way out of line and anything less than a lifetime ban for anyone remotely involved is a joke. I don't care if you suspected it might possibly be happening and you didn't say anything, lifetime ban. There needs to be a absolute zero tolerance of this shit. The only real zero tolerance is that anyone that's not part of the solution, is banned for ever, no appeals, no second chances.

If Pete Rose can be banned from his sport for placing bets, than anyone trying to end a players career should have theirs ended, period.