Gregg Williams’ bounty program is NFL’s put-up-or-shut-up moment

Here we are in Bounty Gate, which — while focused on former Saints and current Rams assistant Gregg Williams — has a Redskins connection, to the surprise of no one.

The sins Williams committed with the Saints were honed in Washington, where he was the defensive coordinator for Joe Gibbs. Specifically, Williams had a bounty system for his defensive players, money he awarded for big plays, including hard hits that took out specific players.

Williams met with NFL investigators, though not Commissioner Roger Goodell, on Monday in New York. After the rhetoric about making player safety a priority in recent years, the league’s handling of this situation will be intensely scrutinized. Gregg the Bounty Hunter provides the NFL a case study. I’ve seen speculation on Williams’s potential suspension ranges from six games to a full season, but is that enough? His program has flourished since at least 2004 — that’s eight seasons by my count.

Punishing Williams is an easy call, as is punishing the head coaches, such as New Orleans’s Sean Payton, who did nothing to stop it. All this went on while the league was confronting its concussion problem by cracking down on this type of play and was facing a multitude of lawsuits over player health issues. And since when is it legal to offer a person money to hurt someone else, even if the hit is legal under NFL rules? Hockey players have been prosecuted for on-ice violence; what if one of the bounty victims decides to sue?

While punishing Williams is a certainty, some see a gray area where the Redskins are concerned. Gibbs says he had no idea this was happening under his watch, and most people in this town are inclined to believe whatever Gibbs says. But whether a coach knew what was going on is not so much the issue. In fact, a coach who didn’t know what was going on scares me just as much as a coach who did but looked the other way. Gibbs gave Williams total autonomy and the Redskins gave him more money than any other assistant in the NFL — and the result was Williams’s 10-men-on-the-field salute to Sean Taylor (without Gibbs’s knowledge) and the infamous and endless job interview with Dan Snyder that ended with Williams being fired.

Every coach in the NFL who has ceded total control of the offense, defense or both to an assistant — especially a megalomaniac of an assistant who desperately wants to be a head coach — should take this past week’s developments as an object lesson. You’d better know what goes on behind closed doors with your coordinators and their players. Otherwise, you may cost your team money (which, for most teams, is not such a big deal) and draft picks (which, for most teams, is a huge deal).

Gibbs is outside the NFL’s reach, of course. (Unless Goodell takes one of Kyle Busch’s backup cars, drives it around Manhattan for a few weeks and collects a lot of parking tickets.) But the Redskins are still vulnerable, even though Gibbs and most of the players who benefited from Williams’s largesse are long gone.

(And just like that, the two story lines of the Redskins’ offseason intersected: Sunday’s Post included a story about how Peyton Manning would fit in with the Redskins; underneath that article was a photo of Manning flat on the turf in 2006 after Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter tag-teamed him in the neck (the now-famous neck that has undergone four surgeries in the past year). I wonder if he will remember that moment when the Redskins come a-courtin’. Then again, maybe Manning can’t remember that moment.)

The Saints and Payton will get hammered, and they should. Payton admits he knew what was going on. The league’s investigation has resulted in 50,000 pages of material. Yikes.

And then there are the Rams. Because Williams was just hired, even a one-game suspension would make Williams all but worthless to Coach Jeff Fisher — meaning that for the NFL’s purposes, a short suspension is as good as a long one.

Except that Williams deserves a long one. He doesn’t deserve a coaching job in the NFL. Goodell needs to send that message to every team in the league: Hire Gregg Williams and his ilk at your own peril. In other words, put a bounty on his head.

More on NFL bounties:

NFL to investigate Redskins over bounty allegations under Gregg Williams

Mike Wise: Another player sheds light on ‘an ugly tradition’

Redskins offered bounties for big hits under Williams

Joe Gibbs: “I would never ask a player to hurt another player’

Mike Wise: Gregg Williams’s true nature exposed

Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints had bounty systems that paid for big hits

NFL statement on New Orleans Saints

How widespread are bounties?

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