The NFL imposed some of the most severe penalties in pro football history Wednesday when Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended two New Orleans Saints coaches as well as the team’s general manager and a former coach for operating and tolerating a bounty system that paid players for hits that injured opponents.
But the Washington Redskins escaped punishment, at least for now, when the league also announced that it had found no evidence to corroborate allegations that a similar bounty program existed between 2004 and 2007, when Gregg Williams, the man at the center of the Saints’ bounty program, coached for Joe Gibbs. A person familiar with the case said the NFL’s active investigation of the Redskins was closed, but left open the possibility of reopening the probe should new information surface.
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell says Saints coach Sean Payton had to be penalized for not having control of his team. Goodell says bounties will not be tolerated in the NFL.
Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 season by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was banned indefinitely on Wednesday because of the team's bounty program.
The furor over the Saints’ bounties comes at a time when the league has focused on player safety by tightening its enforcement of rules that govern legal blows and, in particular, trying to reduce player concussions.
But that effort and the findings in the NFL’s investigation of the Saints’ bounty program, announced March 2, have run hard into what many players consider their on-field code, one that allows attempts to take stars and others off the field with crushing, but legal, blows.
Goodell said in a written statement that paying players to injure opponents crossed the line. “Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so. . . . Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL.”
Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, and now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely. Coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year and General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, the league announced. Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games. All the suspensions are without pay.
The Saints were fined $500,000 and stripped of a pair of second-round draft choices, one in this year’s NFL draft and one in 2013. Saints owner Tom Benson was cleared of wrongdoing after the league concluded he did not know about the bounties.
The investigation of players most heavily involved in the scheme is continuing. The league has said that some will face disciplinary measures.
The penalties are among the harshest in the sport’s history. Then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras for the 1963 season for gambling.
“I am speechless,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote on Twitter. “Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this punishment.”
Williams’s case will be reviewed after the 2012 season, the league announced. His possible reinstatement will depend in part on his cooperation in any further proceedings.