Bounty-Gate: The Ugly Future of the New Orleans Saints and the NFL

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Bounty-Gate: The Ugly Future of the New Orleans Saints and the NFL
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By now we have all seen or heard the report of 22 to 27 Saints players who were involved in a "pay for performance" program that involved the premeditated, intentional injuries of players between the 2009 and 2011 seasons.

Approximately 18,000 documents with more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals, and outside forensic experts were used to verify the authenticity of key documents in the long-range investigation.

The program was administered by former Saints (now current Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  The NFL began an investigation in 2009, as many Saints opponents accused the team of being dirty regarding late hits, threats and the infamous "remember me" hits that Williams himself said he would try to employ during New Orleans' run to Super Bowl XLIV.

In addition, players would get certain bonuses for knocking out a certain player and/or a "raise" if he got carted off the field.

In a statement, commissioner Roger Goodell said: "Our investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Kurt Warner of the Cardinal and Brett Favre of the Vikings...Our security department interviewed numerous players and other individuals."

True to form, both quarterbacks were injured in both games—Warner was knocked out and sent into retirement and Favre was hit early and often, even suffering what seemed to be a sprained ankle.

Earlier this afternoon, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted the following as the story broke:

NFL security determined between 22 and 27 defensive players on the Saints, as well as at least one asst. coach, maintained a bounty program.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was instructed by team owner Tom Benson to stop the program and head coach Sean Payton was aware of the activities, but neither failed to take action. 

In a memo sent to every NFL team, such actions (called non-contract bonuses) are completely against policy.  

The memo begins, saying: 

"As you know, league rules have long prohibited payment of non-contract bonuses -- often referred to as "bounties." These payments are prohibited whether offered generally, or in the context of a particular game or a player's performance against a particular team. Such payments are contrary to rules relating to player contracts and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and present a serious threat to the integrity of the game."

In a statement, Williams said: 

"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay for performance' program while I was with the Saints," Williams said in a statement. "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."

Reaching deeper, the NFL found that the total amount of funds in the pool may have reached over $50,000 during the 2009 playoffs. The program paid players $1,500 for a "knockout" and $1,000 for a "cart-off," with payouts increasing during the postseason.  Also, it was found that players regularly contributed to the pool and were paid benefits of one of two kinds depending on the previous week's game.

The investigation also concluded that other defensive coaches, whether they were on the Saints' staff or others, knew about the program and also contributed to the pool.

Although head coach Sean Payton was not directly involved, he "was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue," the investigation found.

Saints owner Tom Benson has gone on record issuing an assurance to his fans about the future: 

"I have been made aware of the NFL's findings relative to the 'Bounty Rule' and how it relates to our club. I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation," Benson said in a statement. "While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans."

Unfortunately, this is something that Mr. Benson will not be able to "put behind" him.  Though he tried to stop it, his once-honorable franchise now has a black cloud that hovers worse than SpyGate.  The difference between what the Patriots did and these current findings against the Saints are completely different.  

New England tried to gain a competitive edge by stealing signals through videotape—something everyone in the league does—yet they got caught.  What happened in New Orleans was and is of absolute criminal behavior.  Gregg Williams was and is, unquestionably, the perpetrator of a mob mentality that rewarded his players through illegal cash bonuses for INTENTIONALLY hurting players and making sure they never return to an NFL game.  

His actions caused the injuries (and subsequent retirements) of two Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks. Now, he did not do the official hitting himself, but he ordered and encouraged his players to cause as much pain as possible to pre-targeted opponents.  CBS Sports' Mike Freeman also reported that middle linebacker and Pro Bowler Jonathan Vilma, a team captain, personally received $10,000 to take out Brett Favre during said NFC championship game in 2009.  

According to reports, the punishment for these findings will be more severe than SpyGate.  New England was docked nearly $1 million and one draft pick.  New Orleans could be in line for even more dire penalties (some put it up there with the Southern Methodist football "death penalty" issued in the early 1980s) as the investigation unfolds and ultimately concludes.

Now, before we all cross the line with certain comments, not everyone on the team is guilty.  New Orleans will try to save face and clean house as a public relations move to try to move on from this scandal that was run by one of their own and carried out by many.  

The Saints, though viewed as a Cinderella franchise over the last few seasons, have angered some important people in the league office and aren't viewed in the upper stratosphere like the Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Giants and Cowboys are. 

Player safety and integrity has been priority one during Roger Goodell's administration.  Though some current and former players have called the NFL "soft," this fact cannot be disputed.  Yes, the league is getting faster and more violent, but we are talking about purposely hurting another person for monetary benefit.  

It will take a while for the Saints to undo the disgrace they have put upon themselves, but one thing is for sure: Drew Brees now has some doubt in his head.

UPDATE (6:40 PM EST): Report into ESPN says Washington Redskins had same program under Williams when he was defensive coordinator.

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