Rusty Costanza, File, Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints' crush-for-cash bounty system already cost them head coach Sean Payton for all of next season and general manager Mickey Loomis for half of it, plus two second-round draft picks and a $500,000 fine.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who oversaw and contributed money to the illegal fund, was suspended indefinitely.
Unforgiving and unprecedented penalties Wednesday from an NFL determined to rid its sport of hits that aim to knock opponents out of a game.
Now Commissioner Roger Goodell will turn his attention to possible punishments for two dozen or so defensive players the league's investigation found were involved in the extra payouts that he called "particularly unusual and egregious" and "totally unacceptable."
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."
The league is reviewing the case with the NFL Players Association before deciding what to do about players who were part of the Saints' scheme from 2009-11.
"While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players — including leaders among the defensive players — embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players," Goodell said.
Targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game. The Saints were flagged for roughing Favre twice in that game, and the league later said they should have received another penalty for a brutal high-low hit from Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray that hurt Favre's ankle. He was able to finish the game, but the Saints won in overtime en route to the franchise's only Super Bowl.
"The bounty thing is completely unprofessional. I'm happy the league has made it known it won't be tolerated," said left tackle Jordan Gross, Newton's teammate on the Carolina Panthers. "To think that something like that would happen — guys trying to hurt someone to make a few extra bucks — is just appalling. I mean we have a lot on the line, every single one of us. ... You don't want to see anyone taken out a game."
All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently — just not on the same scale as was found in New Orleans.
In a memo to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell ordered owners to make sure their clubs are not offering bounties now. Each club's principal owner and head coach must certify in writing by March 30 that no pay-for-performance system exists.
Payton is the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, while Loomis is believed to be the only GM to be. Goodell also suspended assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
Payton, whose salary this season was to be at least $6 million, ignored instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren't being paid. The league also chastised him for choosing to "falsely deny that the program existed," and for trying to "encourage the false denials by instructing assistants to 'make sure our ducks are in a row.'"
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