The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams Wednesday for their roles in a bounty system that provided the team’s players payments for hits that injured opponents.
Williams was suspended indefinitely. Payton was suspended for one year, and Loomis was suspended for eight games, a person with knowledge of the measures said.
The Saints were fined $500,000 and lose two second-round draft choices, one in this year’s draft and one in 2013, the person with knowledge of the punishments said.
Williams is the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. His case will be reviewed after the 2012 season, the league announced, and his possible reinstatement will depend in part on his level of cooperation with further proceedings.
Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt also was suspended for six games. The suspensions are without pay, according to the NFL’s announcement.
The penalties are among the harshest in the sport’s history. In the 1960s, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras for one year each for gambling.
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement released by the league. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities.
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” Goodell added. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”
The players most heavily involved in the bounty scheme also face possible discipline by the NFL, but no measures have been taken yet.
The Saints issued a written statement that said: “We recognize our fans’ concerns and we regret the uncertainty this episode has created for them. We are humbled by the support our organization has received from our fans today in the wake of this announcement, and we ask them to continue to stand with us, as they have done in the past, when both our team and our city have overcome greater adversities.
“To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations.
“It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner.
“There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again.”
Williams likewise expressed remorse.
“I’d like to again apologize wholeheartedly to the NFL, Coach [Jeff] Fisher, the entire Rams organization and all football fans for my actions,” he said in a written statement. “Furthermore, I apologize to the players of the NFL for my involvement as it is not a true reflection of my values as a father or coach, nor is it reflective of the great respect I have for this game and its core principle of sportsmanship.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions. I highly value the 23 years that I’ve spent in the NFL. I will continue to cooperate fully with the league and its investigation and I will focus my energies on serving as an advocate for both player safety and sportsmanship. I will do everything possible to re-earn the respect of my colleagues, the NFL and its players in hopes of returning to coaching in the future.”
Williams is the former defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. Players and former assistant coaches who were with the Redskins during Williams’s tenure with the team have said that a similar bounty system existed under Williams. Some of the players defended Williams’s tactics, saying that money was paid only for legal hits and clean play was encouraged.
Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, are discussing the pending disciplinary measures against players most heavily involved in the bounties, a person close to the situation said. Goodell has asked Smith for his recommendations on disciplinary action against the players, the person said.
The disciplinary measures come after the league concluded in a previously announced investigation that the Saints had a bounty program, funded primarily by players, over the last three seasons. The NFL’s investigation found that Williams administered the program and occasionally contributed funds to it. The league cited Payton and Loomis in its investigation for failing to do more to halt the program.
According to the NFL’s investigation, the fund reached as much as $50,000 or more and players were paid $1,500 for a hit that knocked an opponent from a game and $1,000 for a hit that led to an opposing player being helped off the field. Those amounts doubled or tripled for playoff games, according to the league’s investigation.
Players also were paid for key plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, the league concluded in its investigation.
The activities are against NFL rules and came at a time when the league has focused on player safety and in particular on improving its methods for dealing with players who suffer concussions.
“Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league’s most important initiatives--enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game,” Goodell said in his statement Wednesday. “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. Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. 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.”
The results of the league’s investigation were announced March 2. The league announced then that possible penalties included fines, suspensions and the loss of draft choices, and the disciplinary measures would be determined by Goodell.
Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ head coach during Williams’s time coaching the Redskins’ defense, has said he was unaware of such a bounty system. Some players said they were aware only of payments being made for big plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries.
The Buffalo Bills reportedly also had a bounty system in effect when Williams was that team’s head coach. Williams met with members of the NFL’s security staff in New York after the allegations of the bounty systems with the Redskins and Bills were reported.
Payton and Saints owner Tom Benson later had a meeting with Goodell. Benson was cleared of wrongdoing by the NFL’s investigation.
People familiar with the case said in recent weeks it was too soon to know if any disciplinary action would be taken against the Redskins or Bills. In the Redskins’ case, one person with knowledge of the league’s deliberations said recently, any violations could be mitigated by the fact that the team now has a different head coach and assistant coaches and an almost entirely different set of players. Williams coached the Redskins’ defense between the 2004 and 2007 seasons.
The NFL Players Association is conducting its own review of the Saints’ bounty case and had urged the league to hold off on disciplinary action until the union’s review was completed.
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More on the bounty investigation:
Jason Reid: Bounties flourished in warped football culture
Mike Wise: Gregg Williams’s true nature exposed