In many ways, it was harsher than expected.
Head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire 2012 season. Some pundits expected Payton—who apparently was aware of rumors of the program but did little to investigate—would be sidelined for four to eight games (see one example here, from just two days ago). This will be a harsh blow, as it will likely prevent Payton from having any contact with the team during the season.
Unfortunately for the Saints, the expected backup plan of turning head coaching duties to assistant head coach Joe Vitt won't entirely work, as he too was suspended—for six games.
More importantly, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is now with the Rams, has been "suspended indefinitely." As the main ringleader from an organizational standpoint, it is not surprising that he received the harshest sanction. That said, "indefinitely" opens up a problem; as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com has noted, an open-ended punishment may run afoul of antitrust laws.
Finally, Saints' GM Mickey Loomis—who apparently did not do enough to stop the bounty program once rumors surfaced, and may have misled the Saints' owner and NFL officials about the existence of the program—was suspended for eight games.
The team itself received the highest monetary penalty the league's constitution allows—$500,000—and will be forced to forfeit its second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. Since the Saints traded their 2012 first-round pick to the Patriots to select Mark Ingram in 2011, this means the Saints' first pick in the 2012 draft is currently their third-rounder.
Possible sanctions against players like Jonathan Vilma have yet to be announced.
In terms of sanctions, the NFL's penalties were much harsher than most analysts expected. It's clear Roger Goodell took umbrage to the Saints' flaunting Goodell's stated mission of trying to make the NFL safer.
That said, the NFL went relatively easy on the Saints themselves. Instead of taking away a first-round pick, as Goodell did with the Patriots in 2007, he took away the equivalent of second- and third-round picks instead. It's not clear why the NFL chose not to sanction the team more harshly; it's possible the NFL accepted that Saints owner Tom Benson was completely honest with them, and therefore decided to focus punishment on the individuals involved.
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