Paul Tagliabue has finally closed the books on the "Bountygate" scandal, vacating the New Orleans Saints players' penalties while affirming that the bounty program set up by Gregg Williams did indeed take place.
Via SI.com's Peter King:
Tagliabue: Vacates player discipline, affirms evidence Vilma put bounty on Favre, blames Saints coaches+organization. That's the upshot.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) December 11, 2012
Now that this case is officially closed, let's take a look at how it all got started and how it evolved over time.
March 2, 2012
After an investigation that began in 2010, the NFL released a statement (h/t the Times-Picayune) indicting Saints coaches and between 22 and 27 players of having a bounty system that gave cash rewards for knocking opponents out of games from 2009-11.
March 6, 2012
Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis issued a joint statement (h/t ProFootballTalk.com) in which they "take full responsibility" for allowing the program to grow and thrive under their watch.
March 9, 2012
March 21, 2012
NFL suspended Gregg Williams indefinitely, Payton for the entire 2012 season, Loomis for the first eight games of the 2012 season and Joe Vitt for the first six games. Additionally, the Saints were fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks—one in 2012 and one in 2013 (h/t WashingtonPost.com).
March 30, 2012
Payton, Vitt and Loomis all appealed their suspensions (h/t NFL.com).
April 5, 2012
Documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released damning audio tape of Williams instructing his players to target Frank Gore and Kyle Williams' heads, Michael Crabtree's ACL and Vernon Davis' ankles (h/t USAToday.com).
You can listen to a four-minute excerpt here, via YouTube, but be warned—there is NFFW language throughout the audio recording.
April 9, 2012
Roger Goodell turned down appeals from Payton, Vitt and Loomis (h/t Yahoo! Sports).
May 2, 2012
Goodell suspended Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, Will Smith for four games, and former Saints players Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita for eight games and three games, respectively (h/t NFL.com).
May 4, 2012
The NFLPA filed a grievance against the NFL claiming that Goodell had no authority to punish players since all aspects of the case occurred before the new CBA was signed in August of 2011 (h/t CBSSports.com).
May 7, 2012
Vilma appealed his suspension (h/t NFL.com), and Fujita, Smith and Hargrove all filed paperwork to "reserve the right to appeal their suspensions after a grievance filed by the NFLPA on their behalf is heard," (h/t NFL.com).
May 17, 2012
Vilma sued Goodell for defamation (h/t NewYorkTimes.com).
June 1, 2012
The NFL revealed that it had a copy of a Saints "ledger" that detailed payments made for "cart-offs" and "whacks" (h/t Yahoo! Sports).
June 4, 2012
An arbitrator between the NFLPA and NFL judged in Goodell's favor, ruling he had authority to punish players (h/t NewYorkTimes.com).
July 3, 2012
Goodell upheld suspensions, rejecting players' appeals (h/t NewYorkTimes.com).
July 26, 2012
Vilma and seven witnesses from the Saints testified in front of a federal judge in New Orleans that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got his facts wrong in the bounty scandal (h/t ESPN News Services and the AP).
September 7, 2012
An appeals panel vacated Goodell's suspensions on all four Saints players, allowing all of them to play in 2012 and putting the ball back in Goodell's court to either alter or affirm them (h/t NewYorkTimes.com).
October 9, 2012
Goodell altered the suspensions of Fujita (from three games to one) and Hargrove (from eight to seven) and upheld the four-game suspension of Smith and the season-long suspension of Vilma (h/t WashingtonPost.com).
October 12, 2012
All four players filed an appeal, and Vilma asked Goodell to recuse himself from any further involvement in the case against him, per NFL Network's Albert Breer.
October 19, 2012
Goodell honored Vilma's request by recusing himself and appointed Tagliabue to hear the appeals of the four players in question (h/t AP).
November 30, 2012
Tagliabue held the appeals hearing for the players. He listened to testimony from Gregg Williams with Vilma and Smith in attendance (h/t WashingtonPost.com).
December 11, 2012
Tagliabue vacated Goodell's suspensions. Via NFL.com, he stated:
Unlike Saints' broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects. My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization.