NFL: What's Next for the Suspended Bountygate Players?
It seems Saints GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton will have company this season as the NFL handed down suspensions to LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Anthony Hargrove, DE Will Smith and LB Scott Fujita. With all four players having played at least seven years in the league, these suspensions could be extremely detrimental to the careers of these veterans.
This slideshow will examine the next move for these players after they serve out their suspensions (unless any of them win their appeals).
LB Jonathan Vilma
Current team: New Orleans Saints
Suspension: Season (including playoffs)
Experience: 8 years
2011 stats: 54 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble
Monetary losses: $1.6 million
Vilma, as expected, was the hardest hit by the NFL in its player suspensions as he has been described as a ring-leader of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' bounty program. According to the league, the Saints' defensive captain offered a sum of $10,000 on multiple occasions to whoever knocked quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett out of playoff games in 2009.
During his time in New Orleans, Vilma has been the unquestioned leader of the defense and his leadership qualities have been invaluable to the Saints. A couple of weeks ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Vilma and the Saints re-worked his contract down from $5.4 million to $1.6 million in base salary, likely in anticipation that a hefty suspension was on its way.
Currently, Vilma stands to make $6 million in 2013 (the final year of his deal), when he makes his return to the team. Expect that number to be re-worked, as 2011 was Vilma's worst year as a Saint and New Orleans will likely not want to invest a whole lot in a 31-year-old linebacker who will not have played in over a year-and-a-half. With all that said, it is very possible that we have seen the last of Jonathan Vilma in New Orleans.
DE Will Smith
Current team: New Orleans Saints
Suspension: 4 games
Experience: 8 years
2011 stats: 35 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Monetary losses: $190,000
The Saints will lose Smith, their best defensive lineman, for the first four games of the year due to his suspension because, according to the NFL, he "pledged significant significant sums to the program pool" as stated by their multiple sources. Smith, like Vilma, is one of the defensive leaders on this team and will be sorely missed during his four-game absence.
The Saints, as they did with Vilma, recently re-structured Smith's contract in order to reduce his cap hit for the season likely in anticipation that he would miss some time due to the bounties.
Smith is under contract through 2014 and despite being the same age as Vilma, is less likely to be cut out of the equation since he will only miss part of the season. Given his consistent performance and the stability he will bring to the Vilma-less defense this season, Smith probably will not have a hard time putting this suspension in his rear-view mirror at least until his contract is up.
DE Anthony Hargrove
Current team: Green Bay Packers
Suspension: 8 games
Experience: 7 years
2011 stats: 18 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries
Monetary losses: $385,000
According to ESPN, the severity of Hargrove's suspension is rooted both in his participation in the bounty program as well as for "obstructing the investigation" by being "untruthful to investigators." Since the word is that the severity of the punishments handed down by the league is mainly a result of the dishonesty demonstrated by those involved, it is no surprise that Hargrove's half-season suspension stems from lying to the league.
Hargrove, who was already playing under a one-year deal, may never put on a Packer uniform. The Pack were already planning on being short one defensive end going into the season and drafted two of them in the draft for safety measures.
When you look at Hargrove's production, his numbers are not awe-inspiring and could be easily replaced with a cheaper rookie. Luckily for Hargrove, the current league mentality is that you cannot have enough pass-rushers, so if the Packers cut him, he should not have too much trouble finding employment once his suspension ends.
LB Scott Fujita
Current team: Cleveland Browns
Suspension: 3 games
Experience: 10 years
2011 stats: 50 tackles, 1 interception, 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles
Monetary losses: $640,000
Fujita got the lightest of the suspensions handed out for his leadership role in the bounty program. Fujita, who is a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, is one of the most respected and well-liked guys in the league, making his suspension the most surprising of the four.
Fujita, who is going into the second year of a three-year contract, was already in danger of losing his starting spot this season after missing the end of last year with a hand injury. With the drafting of linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho, it seems very likely that Fujita will return without a starting role as head coach Pat Shurmur looks to revamp the front seven.
Fujita has been in this league a long time and is thought by many to be at the tail-end of his career, so this suspension is something equivalent to the beginning of the end.