The NFL will investigate allegations that the Washington Redskins had a bounty program to reward players with money for jarring hits when Gregg Williams coached the team’s defense between 2004 and 2007, a league official said Saturday.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said it is standard procedure for NFL officials to look into any accusations of rules violations.

League investigators will seek to determine the facts of the case before drawing any conclusions about potential disciplinary actions, said the source, who declined to speculate about possible penalties.

A former Redskins coach and five players said Friday that the team’s defense under Williams had a system to reward players with cash for hits that knocked opponents from games and for other plays, including interceptions and fumble recoveries. Former defensive end Phillip Daniels acknowledged the practice while defending Williams, saying the approach promoted “good, hard football” and clean play. Others spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Former Redskins safety Matt Bowen, writing in the Chicago Tribune, also defended Williams while confirming that the team’s defensive players had a bounty system during Williams’s tenure.

Joe Gibbs, the head coach of the Redskins when Williams coached the defense, said Friday he was unaware of any such program. The Redskins declined to comment Friday and did not respond to a request for comment Saturday. Williams, now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, issued a written statement Friday apologizing for a similar program he had with the New Orleans Saints the past three seasons, when Williams was that team’s defensive coordinator. He did not respond to requests Friday and Saturday for further comment.

The NFL announced Friday it had determined that the Saints had violated league rules with their bounty program, which was funded primarily by players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is to determine disciplinary measures that could include fines, suspensions or the forfeiture of draft choices by the Saints, according to Friday’s announcement.

The league cited SaintsCoach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis for failing to take steps to halt the program. Its investigation determined that owner Tom Benson was unaware of it until being informed of it by the NFL.

The NFL’s investigation of the Saints began in early 2010 and included the review of 18,000 documents with more than 50,000 pages, according to the league.

Several people within the league said Saturday they would not be surprised to see Goodell give the Saints a more severe punishment than he gave to the New England Patriots in 2007 for the “Spygate” videotaping scandal, when the league determined the Patriots improperly videotaped opponents’ coaching signals. Goodell stripped the Patriots of a first-round draft pick and assessed fines totaling $750,000, including $500,000 to Coach Bill Belichick and $250,000 to the team.

It is not clear if the league would hold the Redskins accountable if it determines that violations occurred while Williams was with the team. Several people familiar with the Redskins’ case said they found it plausible that the program was operated without Gibbs knowing about it.
Williams was given great leeway to run the defense as he saw fit, some of them said, pointing out that Gibbs did not know in advance when Williams and his players decided to honor safety Sean Taylor by having only 10 defenders on the field for the opening play of a December 2007 game against the Buffalo Bills after Taylor was killed at his home in Florida.

The money for the bounties came from a fund generated by fines assessed to players for such things as being late or making a practice-field mistake, Bowen said. Players were paid for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles, according to Bowen.

Bowen wrote that the practice is widespread in the NFL. Others said such tactics have been part of the sport for decades.

“It’s something that was an assumed part of the game,” former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross said in a telephone interview. “It has become a discouraged part of the game. How fans should look at this is more along the lines of player safety. It always hurts to be a precedent, and I think this is going to hurt some people pretty bad when the punishments [to the Saints] come down.”

Former NFL lineman Damien Woody, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, wrote Friday on Twitter: “This ‘bounty’ program happens all around the league. . . not surprising.” The developments regarding Williams’s defenses with the Saints and Redskins come at a time when the NFL has taken a series of steps to attempt to make the game safer by dealing more effectively with concussions suffered by players.

“It’s such a different game than it was in the past,” Cross said. “That game from back then is the Wild West compared to now. It’s shocking that it would be documented to this extent. But did it go on? Yeah, I’m not deluded into thinking that it didn’t go on in the past.”

More on NFL bounties:

Severe, sweeping penalties under consideration in Saints bounty case

Redskins offered bounties for big hits under Williams

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

Mike Wise: Gregg Williams’s true nature exposed

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

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

NFL statement on New Orleans Saints

How widespread are bounties?