Friday the NFL announced the New Orleans Saints' defense kept a "bounty fund" from 2009 to 2011. Each week money would be added to the pot, which reached up to $50,000 at its largest. "Knock outs" and "cart-offs" were awarded a bounty payment. Occasionally a player was targeted—Kurt Warner and Brett Favre explicitly—to be taken out of a game.
Players would be awarded based on their performance in that week’s game. All of this goes against the NFL’s allowances, meaning the Saints’ are destined to face some kind of punishment—be it fines, compensations or draft picks.
And none of this is surprising. If you’ve watched any of the Saints’ games from 2009-2011 you would know immediately that this team had a different type of attitude—and it clearly bordered on dirty. Though the Saints’ defense hasn’t exactly been great over those seasons, something about them was different.
It was part of the reason the unit led the league in turnovers and defensive scoring in that magical, yet now tainted 2009 Super Bowl Championship season. Offenses were intimidated, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t that they were that good. Offensive players had to have gained a sense that the Saints’ defenders were gunning for them.
On the Saints’ championship DVD, NFL Films captured a unique dialogue (really more of a monologue) between now-former Saints’ linebacker Scott Fujita and Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. While Fujita managed a few jokes, it was clear Fujita wasn’t just trying to be funny, he was doing everything he could to intimidate Manning.
At the time, everyone thought it was cute and funny. But in the back of everyone’s mind, we knew this just wasn’t right. The defense was hitting Warner, Favre and Manning after the whistle and below the knees. It was dirty football. Kurt Warner echoed this sentiment Friday, saying he wasn't "completely surprised."
What would a fair punishment be for the Saints?
According to NFL Analyst Damien Woody, this is commonplace in the NFL: "This 'bounty' program happens all around the league...not surprising."
The most disturbing part of this scandal isn’t the fact the former defensive coordinator, who was what seems to be a nutcase and a scoundrel all in one, was the one heading this effort up. More disturbing is the neglect of GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton.
Personal biases aside, such an announcement at the college level would be grounds for immediate removal, or at least indefinite suspension. The NFL has no such power. Tom Benson could make such a choice, but given his thoughts Friday it seems more likely that the form of discipline he chooses will be more of the quiet, in-house variety.
Benson wants the Saints to move forward from this and continue to win championships. All Saints fans hope for that. But the punishment handed down from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promises to be quite steep. The Saints have no First Round selection in 2012 so who knows what will happen immediately. Regardless, the overall roster will be affected negatively.
It's unfortunate because the Saints hired the polar opposite candidate as their replacement defensive coordinator. Steve Spagnuolo is a stand-up guy, a man of great integrity. He's the type who not only would never allow his defenders to try to injure an opponent but would probably chew them out for doing such a thing.
It's unfortunate that one of the few stand-up coaches in the league inherits a roster full of cheaters. It's unfortunate that he steps into defensive meeting room that only knows the wrong way to play the game. It's unfortunate that he has to reap all the bad done by someone else.
But if I know Steve Spagnuolo at all, I bet he'll overcome all that. He'll make his guys play the right way. And this team will be better for it.
As for the St. Louis Rams, they seem to have hired a defensive coordinator who can't prosper even when he's cheating.