New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2012 season and the team will lose two second-round draft picks as punishment for a bounty program carried out by the team over the last three seasons.
In addition, Saints former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams—who spearheaded the "pay for performance" program while he coached the Saints defense from 2009 to 2011—has been suspended indefinitely, leaving the St. Louis Rams in search of a new defensive coordinator.
While Payton's one-year suspension is severe, the fact that the Saints did not lose at least one first-round draft pick is surprising and disappointing.
The NFL announced today that any possible player suspensions will be forthcoming.
Suspending a team's head coach is serious punishment, but what if Payton—like Williams—had moved to another team this year?
Then the Saints' punishment is primarily of a couple of second-round draft picks, fines and some players to be suspended later.
Several of the players rumored to be part of the bounty program have already left the team, so the team, the institution that tolerated it, may well lose very little on the field.
Payton's suspension is effective April 1, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will meet with Williams following the 2012 season to determine the coach's NFL future.
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell said in a statement released today.
"We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised."
Goodell added that a combination of elements made the bounty program particularly egregious.
"When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game," Goodell said.
According to the investigation, Saints players received $1,000 if a player had to be carted off the field and $1,500 if they were knocked out.
Money for the payoffs came from a variety of sources, including Williams, Saints players such as Jonathan Vilma—who put up $10,000 before one 2009 playoff game—and a marketing agent with close ties to Saints head coach Sean Payton, according to the league.
The NFLPA has yet to release a formal response to the punishment and was not immediately available for this story.
The investigation began in 2010, but stalled when countless players denied such a program existed. But it regained traction in late 2011 when "credible new information" came in, according to the NFL.
Williams, hired last month by the St. Louis Rams as defensive coordinator, acknowledged his role in the bounty program as news broke several weeks ago.
"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, (Saints owner Tom) 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 released by the Rams.
According to the report—which included email and text records—head coach Sean Payton was aware of the program but did not inquire about it or take steps to stop it.
In 2010, the NFL notified Saints owner Tom Benson of the allegations, and Benson reportedly contacted general manager Mickey Loomis, ordering him to put an end to such a program if indeed it did exist.
Loomis did nothing, according to the league, and the bounties were offered again during the 2011 season.
In the now-famous memo released to NFL teams, the league said Loomis and Payton were guilty of "conduct detrimental" to the league.
Loomis has been suspended for eight games, and Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt also was suspended six games and fined $100,000. Both suspensions are without pay.
Benson, in a 60-word statement, gave the allegations short shrift: "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. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans."