Today's major breaking news regarding the New Orleans Saints brings to mind many words: disgusting, unsportsmanlike, dirty, appalling and many more not mentionable on this website. This new controversy has been brought up with the likes of the "Spygate scandal" all day today on all of the major sports networks, but what the Saints have allowed is far, far worse than anything that came out of Spygate. From 2009 to 2011, the New Orleans Saints have instituted a pay-for-injury system that undermines everything that sportsmanship in the NFL has ever stood for.
It has not only jeopardized the playing careers of the Saints' opponents, but it has also had the potential to ruin players' lives off the playing field as well. Intentionally injuring an opponent is never what the NFL has stood for, and it is a shame on the New Orleans Saints' defenders that they would be willing to potentially ruin the careers of their fellow athletes for a little added bonus in their paychecks. Furthermore, it is a shame on the Saints' coaching staff, from Sean Payton all the way down to Gregg Williams and the assistant coach that still remains unnamed in the report, that they would willingly institute such a policy into a football program that single-handedly revived the sports scene of New Orleans and lifted the spirit of a city that was crushed by one of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit America.
If the punishment handed down to the New England Patriots for placing a camera in an illegal location is any sort of barometer, the Saints should, and rightfully so, be expecting a far more brutal punishment from the league office in the coming months. The Patriots were stripped of a first-round draft pick and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for this offense, a punishment not even remotely close to how the Saints should be punished.
The first thing Roger Goodell should start with is the suspension of coaches. Early on in his inauguration as the league's commissioner, he stated that he would hold the front office and coaching staffs of teams responsible for incidents just like this one. Goodell now has the ability to make good on this statement, just as he punished the Patriots' coach and owners.
If this incident was isolated and was only reported to happen during the course of one season it would be no less appalling, but suspensions would likely be on a smaller scale. I believe that a four-game suspension is a reasonable punishment for an offense like this in a single case. Therefore, I believe that Payton, Williams and the assistant responsible each must receive a 12-game suspension this year, treating it as three separate offenses with four-game suspensions. Williams' suspension should carry over to his new position with the Rams, which is unfortunate for the St. Louis organization, but justified nevertheless.
Since the Patriots lost a first-round selection for a much less horrifying offense, there is no reason that the Saints shouldn't face the same punishment, but worse. Not only should New Orleans lose their first-round selection for this upcoming season, but they should also be stripped of their first pick until after the 2014 draft, a total of three first-rounders to account for each year the bounty program was instituted. In truth, I believe that the Saints should be completely removed from this year's draft, but I honestly believe this punishment may be a bit unrealistic and is unlikely to happen.
Next, each player that received a bonus for intentionally injuring an opponent must be handled as well. When these players' names come to light, it is imperative that each player pay the amount of bonus money received to the league as a fine for their deplorable actions. Players still active in the NFL who received these bonuses, whether on the Saints roster or not, should each face a one-game suspension. It would be interesting to see the NFL follows the policies set by the NCAA and institutes a punishment where postseason play is unattainable for this upcoming season for the Saints, but I again recognize that that this punishment is rather unrealistic, especially for a professional league.
For fines, Goodell should come down hard on the Saints organization, and I expect them to. Nobody in the front office should get off the hook. It is their job to oversee the program and make sure that something like this does not happen. They are accountable for the actions of their coaching staff. I propose a fine of $1 million for Payton, Williams and the assistant coach on top of their 12-game bans, and a fine of $5 million for owner Tom Benson and the Saints organization. Their further cooperation with league investigation for possible further punishment should be accepted without complaint, and any refusal to oblige any and all information should be met with more severe fines.
The bottom line is that the punishments for the Saints need to be severe enough that any other teams considering instituting a bounty system immediately drop the idea. This may or may not have been the first bounty system to the place in the modern game, but it is certainly safe to say that it is the first to be made public. The fact that this has continued for three years is unacceptable, and the Saints need to be made an example of. There is no place in the NFL for such actions, and Goodell must do his best to ensure there is never a place in the game for it again.