The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal continues to grow. After an indefinite suspension for former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and a one-year ban for head coach Sean Payton, the league has now turned its focus to players.
Update: Wednesday, May 2 at 12:30 p.m. ET
All 4 player suspensions will be appealed, per source who said, "Get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 2, 2012
The Players Association had a good amount of time to start preparing their case against the discipline since it's been expected for a couple weeks. Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld all the previous suspensions that were appealed, so the NFL will likely stand firm on the issue as well.
It's safe to say this issue is far from over.
Update: Wednesday, May 2 at 12 p.m. ET
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com has passed along the suspensions. Most notably, linebacker Jonathan Vilma will miss the entire season for his role. As mentioned in the original update below, Vilma became a key figure in the case after a reported Brett Favre bounty offer.
Vilma suspended for the season. Wow.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) May 2, 2012
Fujita gets 3 game,s Hargrove 8 games, Will Smith four games. NFL announced.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) May 2, 2012
None of the names listed are a major surprise. The NFL made it clear early in the process that they were going to take this issue very seriously, especially with the concussions problems the league has been facing. The discipline matches that level of concern.
The players now have the choice to either appeal the suspensions, like head coach Sean Payton did before his one-year ban was upheld, or accept the decision.
Update: Wednesday, May 2 at 11:50 a.m. ET
It took awhile, but it appears the NFL has finally made a decision on player punishments for the Saints bounty scandal. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports an announcement is expected at some point today.
Saints player discipline expected to be handed down today.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 2, 2012
Update: Monday, April 30 at 8:45 a.m. ET
Player punishments haven't been handed down as quickly as originally expected, but La Canfora expects them sometime this week. He also makes his predictions for the suspensions, some of which are pretty severe.
Saints player discipline expected this week. If I had to guess, would think Vilma (4-8 games), W. Smith (2-4), Hargrove (1-2), Harper (1-2)— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 30, 2012
Losing Vilma for eight games would be a massive blow for a Saints defense that doesn't have much depth. The players would likely fight any punishment, but Goodell has already shown a lack of remorse for anybody involved with the scandal.
Update: Tuesday, April 24 at 10:35 a.m. ET
Rich Eisen of NFL Network talked with commissioner Roger Goodell and reports player discipline for the bounty scandal will get handed down in the near future.
Just interviewed Roger Goodell, who said player discipline in Bounty case was coming "soon" & rejected "just following orders" defense— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) April 24, 2012
It's somewhat of a surprise to see the punishments likely to get reported so close to the draft, which is the league's marquee event during the offseason. There were no clues as to how many suspensions would be handed out or their likely severity, but it's clear the NFL is taking the situation very seriously.
Vilma continues to brace for a suspension of up to eight games, according to La Canfora. He's been viewed as a central figure due to his reported $10,000 offer to knock Brett Favre out of a playoff game three years ago.
He's been a member of the Saints since 2008, covering the entire time the league was monitoring the Saints' defensive tendencies.
The report states Harper "featured prominently" in the investigation and could face a more harsh penalty than most of the players who took part in the program. The safety has played his entire career in New Orleans and has gained the reputation as a heavy hitter.
Harper was fined a total of $22,500 for a pair of personal fouls against the Tennessee Titans last season. Another fine of $15,000 came for hitting Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers after he scored a touchdown.
Another key part of the NFL's probe into the bounty program, Smith has also spent his entire career with the Saints. He has been one of the team's most effective pass-rushers, but hasn't been fined for any hits on the quarterback.
His only prior league discipline came in the form of a two-game suspension for violating the banned substance standards.