The NFL is considering severe, sweeping disciplinary measures in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case that could include lengthy suspensions of Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and player leaders of the scheme, a person familiar with the deliberations said Sunday.
The person, speaking on the condition of anonymity because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not made final decisions on penalties, said some of the sanctions could be “unprecedented.” Payton and Loomis face discipline for failing to halt the practice of paying players for big hits on opponents. The bounty system was administered by Williams and involved 22 to 27 players, according to an NFL investigation revealed Friday.
The suspensions under consideration are a half-season or longer in some cases, the person said. Several other people in the sport said they expect Williams, now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, to be punished severely.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the Washington Redskins had a similar system under Williams from 2004 to 2007 that paid players for big hits on opponents. On Saturday, the Post reported that the NFL would investigate the Redskins as it has the Saints.
People with knowledge of the deliberations cautioned that Goodell has yet to make final determinations in the Saints case and that some matters remained subject to change. Goodell is seeking advice on disciplinary action from the NFL Players Association, players and others, those people said.
Williams is scheduled to meet with NFL officials Monday in New York, ESPN reported Sunday. The league declined comment on the reported meeting. The Saints declined comment through a spokesman.
The Saints’ bounty system was carried out from 2009 to 2011 at a time that the NFL was placing new empahsis on player safety, particularly the prevention of head injury, by toughening enforcement of rules and heavily fining violators. The league faces a large number of lawsuits from players who claim the game’s violence left them permanently impaired.
Some players have said since Friday that bounties are common in the NFL, and were paid for hard, but clean hits. Even so, many people in professional football are growing increasingly convinced that the penalties imposed by Goodell in the Saints case will be significantly more severe than the sanctions against the New England Patriots in 2007 for the “Spygate” videotaping scanda. Goodell stripped the Patriots of a first-round draft choice and imposed fines that toaled $750,000--$500,000 for Coach Bill Belichick and $250,000 for the team--after the Patriots were found guilty of improperly videotaping opponents’ coaching signals. Belichick was not suspended.
The person familiar with penalty deliberations in the Saints case referred pointedly to the full season suspensions that former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle imposed in 1963 on Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras for gambling. It was not clear which of the people involved in the Saints case might face a suspension that long.
The league announced Friday that the discipline in the Saints case could include fines, suspensions or the forfeiture of draft choices. According to the NFL’s investigation, the Saints’ bounty system was primarily player-funded and paid for hits that forced opponents off the field or knocked them out of a game, along with fumble recoveries and interceptions. Such payments violate league rules, according to the NFL.
The league’s investigation cited Loomis and Payton for failing to take action to halt the bounty program. It found that the program was “administered” by Williams.
The person familiar with the NFL’s deliberations said Sunday it is too soon to know whether disciplinary action will be taken against the Redskins or any other teams for violations involving Williams.
Joe Gibbs, who was the Redskins’ head coach when Williams coached the team’s defense, has said he had no knowledge of a Redskins bounty program.
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