Saints GM and coach admit blame

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 6:15 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams looks on during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator, apologized for running a bounty program that targeted opposing players for injuries. In a statement, he says the program was a "terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it." The NFL on Friday said that it had found between 22 and 27 Saints participated in the program over the last three seasons, and that players including quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre were targeted.

Gerald Herbert, File, Associated Press

Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that "happened under our watch."

"These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Payton and Loomis added. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool.

"We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," they said.

The league's investigation, released last Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced.

The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not. The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it.

Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league's ongoing investigation.

Once it concludes — the league says there is no timetable — Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 5½ years as commissioner.

Goodell has frequently taken a hard line on any action that threatens player safety. He suspended Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent last season; banned Pittsburgh's James Harrison for one game after a series of flagrant hits that culminated in a collision with Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy's helmet; and has ramped up the amount of fines for what the league terms "egregious hits."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said before handing out any penalties, Goodell will review the information with his staff and consult with others, including the union and player leaders.

The players' union has not seen a full report of the investigation, so it can't be certain if Goodell will levy punishment under the on-field discipline or the personal conduct policy. There's a major distinction, because players can appeal on-field punishment to independent arbitrators Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Appeals under the personal conduct policy are heard by Goodell and other league officials.

"The commissioner has broad authority to impose discipline for violation of league rules. We're not going to put it in a category right now," Aiello said.

The NFL hasn't cited specific players, but fines and suspensions are probable for those found to have participated in the bounty program.

"We take this issue seriously and we continue to look into it," union spokesman George Atallah said.

Goodell fined the New England Patriots $250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick.

That violation pales in comparison to a bounty of up to $50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The Saints can expect heavier sanctions than those given the Patriots, with suspensions likely for Loomis and Payton and a seven-figure fine for the organization.

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