After suspending head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, along with eight games for GM Mickey Loomis and six more for assistant head coach Joe Vitt, Goodell banned linebacker Jonathan Vilma for all 16 games of next season and defensive end Will Smith for four.
A number of NFL players, including former Saints defensive end Alex Brown, have come to the defense of punished players. And overall, I agree with their premise: The NFL was wrong to single out the Saints as the example of why no NFL team should ever attempt this kind of act again.
While what the Saints did—paying players for hurting and targeting opponents—cannot be justified, the NFL strayed far from right when they handed down their punishment Wednesday. The league has been steadfast in bringing down swift punishment to help make the game safer, but in no circumstance has the NFL made this drastic of jump from a slap on the wrist to career suicide.
Vilma, who turned 30 last month, may find it hard to ever play in the NFL again after sitting out an entire season. His ban could effectively end his career.
Brown, who no longer plays in the NFL, mentioned the ever-changing hammer of justice from Goodell an eye-opening reason of why the punishments weren't entirely fair. Ndamukong Suh's two-game fine last season was the example he used:
Some (transgressions) seem more vicious than others, but the ones that seem more vicious get less punishment. I don’t understand it. I mean, it’s not my job. But (Goodell) should have to tell us -- the general public and the fans -- exactly what is going on. Because I really don’t understand how Ndamukong Suh doesn’t get suspended for a season when Vilma gets suspended for a season for whatever he’s accused of doing.
Suh forcefully stomped a downed player in the arm last season after repeatedly shoving his head into the ground, but received just a two-game ban.
Brown could have also mentioned Albert Haynesworth, the former Tennessee Titans defensive tackle who got a five-game suspension for stomping on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode. His act gave Gurode 30 stitches on his face and nearly prompted criminal charges.
Yet Haynesworth took his five-game suspension—which, at the time, was an historic ban—and returned to the field that same year. Vilma is gone for the entire season. Do the two add up?
Were the punishments handed down to the Saints players too harsh?
It's hard to compare a visible act of stomping on another player to the funding of a bounty program that spanned three years.
But while Vilma may have offered up $10,000 for injuries to both Brett Favre and Kurt Warner during the 2010 playoffs, not once did Vilma go outside the laws of the game to injure either player. Watch the film from both games. Vilma was far more worried about lining up his defensive front against the Cardinals or calling audibles against the Vikings to go out of his way to hurt another player.
There was no stomping or cleating. Vilma didn't even deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit, another aspect of the game that Goodell has been "harsh" on but not nearly as strong as he was in this case.
That is why the NFL went over the line in singling out the Saints players—in particular, Vilma.
Bounties may never happen in the NFL again, but killing a player's career over two bounties seems as reckless by Goodell as Vilma putting $10,000 down on Favre and Warner. The NFL took a huge and unnecessary leap in punishment to single out and make an example of Vilma and the Saints players.
“In my opinion [the punishment] is dead wrong," Brown said. "It shouldn’t have happened and those guys should not be punished...It does not make sense.”