The Bountygate saga just won't go away, as Roger Goodell has once again suspended four former and current New Orleans Saints players for their participation in an alleged bounty system under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports:
Sources: Goodell upholds Vilma suspension but keeps game checks on PUP; Fujita reduced 3 games to 1, Hargrove reduced 8 to 7, Smith stays 4— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) October 9, 2012
The NFLPA didn't take long to fire back at Goodell, according to ProFootballTalk.com:
For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process.
Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake. We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance.
Nola.com provided a transcript of Goodell's statement to the players, and using that information as the springboard, we'll delve into whether or not each player involved deserves to do the time for their alleged crime.
It's important to note that I'll be buying or selling these suspensions based on the known facts of the case, rather than a going with my gut. This is a legal matter, and as such, morality isn't the issue.
Goodell seems to be offering Vilma somewhat of an olive branch by allowing him to earn money this year while he's on the PUP list (six games).
Here's what Goodell wrote (in part) regarding Vilma:
At our meeting, you confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a broader program in place among the Saints' defensive players...You confirmed that, as Coach Vitt testified, an opposing player's need for smelling salts under a trainer's care was a consequence of the kind that the program sought to achieve and for which players were offered cash rewards from the incentive pool.
I also find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by offering a substantial financial incentive to any member of the defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the Saints' 2009 NFC playoff game against the Vikings.
In addition, as you know, in early 2010 a Vikings player informed Coach Childress that a Saints player had told him that a bounty had been placed on Mr. Favre. There is also video evidence that a Saints player said; 'Give me my money' immediately after Coach Vitt told the defensive unit (incorrectly) that Mr. Favre's leg had been broken and that he would not be returning to the game.
I find, based on all of these facts and the entire record described above, that you did, in fact, pledge money to any teammate who injured or disabled Mr. Favre to an extent that he would not be able to continue playing in the playoff game...And I find that such a pledge or any similar incentive is conduct detrimental.
Essentially, Goodell's entire case against Vilma, for the sake of this legal matter, is based on one incident—the infamous "Give me my money" game against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.
I have no doubt in my mind that Vilma and his teammates had placed a bounty on Favre, and I don't have any doubt that they intended to injure him. The evidence is clear on this point and Vilma is surely guilty of playing a major role.
That said, I can't agree with the insane length of this suspension—even with the "olive branch" Goodell is extending—because the NFL never warned players specifically about bounties. The coaches and team managers were given warning, but the players never were (h/t ESPN.com).
Eight games would have been an adequate penalty for Vilma. Half the amount his coach received makes sense, but giving him the full year even though Vilma didn't have the same warnings as his coach makes no sense.
Hargrove has already apparently served five games of his suspension as a free agent this season, according to Goodell's statements.
That doesn't make any sense, though, because going forward, Hargrove won't be able to serve the other two games of his now-seven-game suspension until he's signed by a new club.
Why is Goodell counting the five games already served, and then denying Hargrove the right to continue serving his suspension until a team signs him?
That's kooky by itself, but there's more.
Here is Goodell's reasoning for suspending Hargrove:
I find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by falsely denying, when questioned by an NFL Security representative, both the existence of the Saints' program and the pledge of a substantial payment to any member of the Saints' defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
My finding that you misled the NFL Security representative and obstructed the League's investigation is corroborated by your own Declaration and by numerous statements made by you in our meeting of September 18 that were themselves not credible.
Basically, Goodell is suspending Hargrove for lying to him.
The only "evidence" Goodell has against Hargrove is that other players admitted there was a bounty program, while Hargrove denied the story.
Not that I necessarily believe that Hargrove was unaware that such a program existed, how can Goodell prove that he knew it did?
Goodell didn't change a thing regarding his previous verdict for Smith, who will serve a four-game suspension unless the NFLPA fights this ruling (it will).
Here is Goodell's reasoning:
At our meeting in September, you confirmed that you expressed approval of the program when it was first presented to you by Coach Williams. You also confirmed that you provided money to the program pool both at the beginning of the season and again during the playoffs.
He goes on to talk about how he understands that Smith claims they didn't really try to hurt anyone, and then says this:
I find that you endorsed and agreed to, and contributed substantial sums toward, a program that incentivized, encouraged and paid players to cause cart-offs and knockouts...Encouraging and rewarding cart-offs and knockouts represents an effort to cause or to seek to cause injury to and to disable opposing players, and such conduct is detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, professional football, regardless of whether the hit that causes the cart-off or knockout is 'clean' or 'dirty,' i.e., subject to penalty or fine under on-field playing rules.
Goodell is using Smith's own words against him here. Smith admitted to being an integral part of a system that encouraged cart-offs and knockouts. That's all I need to hear, here.
Whether you believe Goodell is being genuine about player safety or not, there's no doubt that bounties have no part in the NFL. Call it "pay for performance" if you will, but the evidence is clear that Smith engaged in an activity that will no longer be tolerated by the NFL.
Fujita had his previous sentence of three games dropped down to just one.
Here is Goodell's reasoning:
While I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool, there is no serious question that you were aware of the pool and its elements, including that it provided rewards for cart-offs. Indeed, Mr. [Jonathan] Vilma testified that Coach [Gregg] Williams brought the program to the team's defensive leaders before the 2009 season and that you supported and endorsed it. Your own comments confirm that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off' the playing field.
There also remains the matter of your admitting to having essentially run your own rewards program, separate and apart from the program in which Coach Williams was involved, in which you paid or offered to pay teammates for 'big plays' such as forced fumbles or sacks. As you described the payments at our recent meeting, they were entirely independent of Coach Williams, the Club, or any Club Affiliate. As you further noted, you would pay such pledges only if the Saints won the game. This conduct is itself a violation of Article IX, Sections 9.1(c)(8) and 9.3(F) of the Constitution and Bylaws.
Goodell has no proof that Fujita was involved in funding money for the bounty program—unlike Vilma and Smith.
Basically, Goodell is nailing Fujita for a long-standing tradition that's been going on for decades. He admits to running a rewards program that rewarded fumbles or sacks, and that's all.
A warning is more appropriate here.
Let us know what you think about the latest news, and tell me if you agree with my findings in the comments section below.
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