If you’ve followed the NFL in the past few days, you know Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down one of the stiffest penalties in NFL history. Commissioner Goodell, in “Bounty-Gate”, took action against individuals, as well as the New Orleans Saints.
Personally, I thought the whole “Bounty-Gate” thing was a little trumped up. I’m still of the belief, as many are, that a disgruntled player leaked what was going on. Additionally, Commissioner Goodell talked about player safety, but indicated the punishment was based primarily on the extra cash payments; the NFL bans external streams of revenue unless authorized.
Regardless of my view, or anyone else’s, the Commissioner has handed down a series of punishments, which will be analyzed here. We’ll start with the premise that punishment was warranted and evaluate each form of punishment.
Gregg Williams, Former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator
Punishment: Suspended Indefinitely
The Reason: Williams, allegedly, was the ringleader of the bounty program. Word is the program also took place with the Washington Redskins, prior to his arrival in New Orleans. He has apologized for his role in the bounty system and was supposed to be defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2012. Commissioner Goodell has stated he will review Williams’ status at the conclusion of the 2012 season, but many believe that Williams has coached his last game. The system involved 22-27 defensive players targeting quarterbacks, such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Carolina’s Cam Newton, and Arizona’s Kurt Warner.
Our Take: Punishment was warranted. Despite Williams’ apology, and his seemingly honest character about his involvement in the system, it doesn’t absolve him of liability.
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints Head Coach
Punishment: Suspended for entire 2012 NFL Season
The Reason: Payton denied any involvement or knowing about the bounties. According to the NFL’s investigation, Payton received an email prior to the Saints’ first game in 2011, stating “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic)”. After denying knowledge, Payton admitted it referred to a bounty on Rodgers. Payton was told by the NFL and General Manager Mickey Loomis to see that any bounty program be ended, as early as a few years ago.
Our Take: Punishment was warranted. Coach Payton indicated he had knowledge of the system, lying to the NFL and Commission Goodell about his involvement and the extent of the system.
Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints General Manager
Punishment: Suspended for first 8 games of 2012 NFL Season
The Reason: GM Loomis was instructed by Owner Tom Benson and the NFL to see to it that the bounty program was ended. Loomis asked Payton if the program was over. A few years back, Loomis was involved in the distribution of the drug Vicodin around the Saints coaching office. It’s not the first time he has caught the eye of the commissioner’s office. Loomis will be able to make draft day decisions, as well as continue in his current role through the end of the preseason, but will be suspended from weeks 1 through 8.
Our Take: Punishment is a bit light. The NFL trusted that Loomis would take care of the bounty issue. Instead, Loomis passed the buck to Payton, making it the coach’s problem. Loomis failed to follow up and adequately investigate. The only real difference between Loomis and Payton is that Payton lied and Loomis shirked responsibility. Oh, and about two months.
Joe Vitt, New Orleans Saints Assistant Coach
Punishment: Suspended for first 6 games of 2012 NFL Season; fined $100,000
The Reason: Like Loomis, Vitt has had contact with the NFL’s office before. Vitt was also involved in the Vicodin deal. The Saints’ linebackers coach was alleged to be involved in the scheme that paid defensive players for hits made during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Our Take: Punishment is a bit light (regarding the suspension). As you go further down the chain of command, it becomes tougher and tougher to understand the variance in punishments. Vitt is out six games but Loomis is out eight? Isn’t it reasonable to say Vitt had more knowledge, and, therefore, should have known it was a problem? I’m sure Coach Vitt isn’t a dumb guy – he’s been a very successful coach and was eyed for head coaching positions.
New Orleans Saints Organization
Punishment: Fined $500,000
The Reason: Owner Tom Benson was alerted to the bounty program by the NFL’s office. Whether he had knowledge of the program prior to his meeting with the NFL is anyone’s guess. Regardless, Benson is responsible for the organization and should have been in contact with the individuals involved. Benson’s tenure with the Saints has always been a bit squirrely, dating back to Hurricane Katrina when he indicated the Saints would move. Then he indicated the Saints would stay in New Orleans. A few weeks ago, he slapped the franchise tag on an angry Drew Brees, refusing to sign Brees to a long-term deal. Without Brees, the Saints would have never won a Super Bowl and probably wouldn’t even have been a playoff team. Since then, Brees has continued to lead the Saints, both on the field and off.
Our Take: Punishment warranted. Feel free to look at the $500,000 as an administrative cost. The NFL had to have people investigate the allegations. Once the Saints were found to have disregarded the league’s orders and continued to participate in an illegal system, they were at least going to be on the hook monetarily. Oh and by the way, pay the man (Brees) before he leaves.
New Orleans Saints Organization
Punishment: Lost 2012 and 2013 Second Round Draft Picks
The Reason: Taking away draft picks is always going to be looked at in a different light. New Orleans is only the fourth team to surrender a first round or multiple draft picks bases on a single violation. The other three teams are New England, Denver, and San Francisco, with the former being for Spygate and the latter two being for salary cap violations in the early 2000s.
Our Take: Punishment is excessive. Think about it in this way: Do we punish the guilty or the innocent? If the goal is to punish the guilty, you go after the individuals involved – Payton, Loomis, Williams, and Vitt, as well as any players. If the goal is to punish the innocent, go after everyone, regardless, because they had “knowledge”. Problem is, now individuals who haven’t stepped foot in the NFL are being punished. A player that normally would have signed with the Saints as a draftee now may have to run the risk of being a free agent. Players in the later rounds now need to worry about whether they will be signed to NFL teams, or whether they will go the route of free agency. The punishment is similar to college football or basketball teams being docked scholarships – punishing future athletes for the sins of the past. It just doesn’t make sense.
Commissioner Goodell has indicated that NFL players who were involved in the bounty system will be subject to the action of the NFL Players Association. Any good will the Saints built up during the recovery of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina is arguably now lost.