Bountygate: Why Has New Orleans Saints Player Discipline Taken This Long?

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Bountygate: Why Has New Orleans Saints Player Discipline Taken This Long?
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The NFL announced findings of its investigation into the New Orleans Saints bounty program on March 2. Per the league's timeline, discipline for the coaches and front office was announced on March 21 and appealed on April 5 before a decision on the appeal was announced on April 9. 

If the coaches and executives involved in Bountygate have been aware of their fate for more than three weeks, why did the calendar turn to May before the players involved learned theirs?

Rather than wildly speculate (more on that in a minute), I posed that question to the NFL, which directed me to a pre-NFL draft Q&A with commissioner Roger Goodell:

On the status of the Saints bounty-rule matter: 

We are in the final stages of working on the discipline that will involve the players.  We hope to be doing that very soon and get that behind us.

More on the timing of the player discipline from the Saints bounty-rule investigation: 

We are still doing some additional work.  We are in a position where we should be able to wrap that up soon.  As soon as we do, we will issue our decision. 

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Q&A took place on March 25. Despite multiple sources telling national NFL reporters the announcement was going to be made during the draft, it was not. Some reports noted the announcement was slated to come the Monday after the draft. It did not. 

At the time of this publication, there is still no announcement on the player discipline in the wake of the Saints' bounty program.

There has been no good reason why it is taking this long. Again, on April 30 the league answered a question about the timeline by referencing a question and answer session from five days earlier, meaning nothing on the league's side–at least publicly–has changed in nearly a week.

The fact is, by the time you have a chance to read this, the news could be out. The NFL has given no indication as to a specific timeline for this announcement.

When asked about that timeline, I was told: "We're not discussing details of the investigation or timeline. When we have something to announce, we will announce it."

Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

Granted, the NFL doesn't need to help reporters with scheduling their stories. I get that. When the investigation is done, it will be done.

But why isn't it done?

How much fact-finding could the league need to do? It has been two full months since the findings of the NFL investigation became public and 42 days since management discipline was first announced. Why have the players been left in limbo?

(Now feels like the right time to wildly speculate.) 

Did the NFL wait until after the draft to bring the hammer down on players in an effort to punish the Saints twice? Not only will some players get suspended for their involvement in the bounty program, but announcing those suspensions after the draft has made it more difficult for Mickey Loomis and his staff to mitigate those losses with a new crop of players.

This suggestion is making the rounds with fans and even some media, but it would be very conspiratorial on the part of the NFL. With no pick until the third round of the draft, the Saints really didn't have much chance to change their draft philosophy based on a few in-season suspensions anyway.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Free agency and trades are another issue. There were a number of high-profile players available early in free agency or just before the draft the Saints could have targeted if they knew the fate of their current defensive stars.

The longer the NFL takes, the harder it will be for the Saints to restock the shelves. Again, this notion seems hard on the Saints for no reason. I don't believe the league is this malicious.

The most logical reason for the delay may be far less nefarious than people (read: Saints fans and media) want to admit. What if the commissioner just didn't have the time to deal with the Saints players before the draft?

Goodell has been very busy lately. The draft is one of the showcase events of the year for the NFL, and on top of hosting the event on live TV, giving out bear hugs to every player on the stage and schmoozing with the VIPs in attendance, Goodell has a ton of draft-day duties we can only begin to imagine.

Let's not forget the NFL just released its 2012 schedule recently, another newsworthy event on the NFL calendar that came between the Saints staff and player discipline.

Maybe the commissioner of the NFL wears too many hats and, like some of the first-round picks he warmly embraced last weekend, not all of the hats fit.

If Goodell is the judge, jury and executioner of NFL discipline, maybe it's not just unfair to the players that he hears the appeals on his own suspensions—something inexplicably agreed upon by the Players Association during collective bargaining—maybe it's simply unfair to that the commissioner doesn’t have enough time to do it all anymore.

Maybe Goodell was just too busy with the NFL schedule and draft that he didn't have time to properly complete the Saints bounty investigation.

Not maybe. In the Q&A the league sent, Goodell admitted he was too busy, saying, "As I said, we are going to probably be distracted here with the draft for the next couple of days.  I don't know how much time I will be able to spend on it.  We have others working on it full time.  I will meet with them over the next several days." 

Al Bello/Getty Images

Certainly the league has others working on it full time, but the final decision must come from Goodell, who is illustrating how difficult it is to handle all his duties as the commissioner if they include being his own czar of discipline.

If this situation isn't a clear indication Goodell should finally delegate discipline to someone outside his office, nothing is.

If Goodell were to give the authority of suspensions and fines to a subcommittee and handle the appeals himself, the process would be fairer for the player and could be handled in a more timely fashion for the teams. This isn't just about the Saints. 

Goodell has shown he loves to wear as many hats as possible. He needs to realize he should stick with the ones that fit.

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