Make no mistake, the New Orleans Saints will feel the full wrath of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
When the league concludes its investigation of the alleged bounty system employed by the Saints' defense and it is determined that it existed and the team tried to cover it up, the commissioner will come down on them very hard.
There will be steep fines, suspensions and a loss of draft picks. Also, there will be serious repercussions within the Saints organization. General manager Mickey Loomis, who was most responsible for the cover up, could lose his job. Head coach Sean Payton will take a major hit, although it seems unlikely that he would be fired.
Even the St. Louis Rams will be caught in the fallout as they are almost certain to lose defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for part of the 2012 season. Williams was the man in charge of the Saints defense during the time when the rewards system was in place.
Williams left the Saints after last season and joined the Rams, but he will surely be suspended by the league for part of the 2012 season. He also will be heavily fined. The repercussions of this story will be felt across the NFL for quite awhile.
On Friday, the league released a report that claimed over a three-year period from 2009 through 2011, the Saints had a system of bounty payments which rewarded defensive players for outstanding individual plays (sacks, interceptions, etc.) and also for hits that knocked opposing players out of the game.
It is reported that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered any teammate 10,000 for knocking then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship game. It is also said a similar bounty was placed on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner in the divisional playoff. (We all remember the number of vicious shots Favre and Warner took in those games).
In other games, the report claims, the bounty was smaller but still existed. It was 1,000 to any defender whose hit forced an opponent to leave the field (those were called cart-offs) and 1,500 if that player was unable to return (those were scored as knockouts)
According to league rule and salary cap restrictions, teams are not allowed to pay bonus money for individual plays, such as turnovers, tackles and so forth. It does go on, players are slipped a few bucks here and there, but it is technically against the rules and it will be penalized if the league finds out.
So that is in play here, but the bigger story is the monetary incentive the Saints offered to players for injuring their opponents. That is a big deal especially now with Goodell as the commissioner whose major initiative is making the game safer for the players. He is on a campaign to reduce the risk of injury, in particular concussions, and here is a team that is offering monetary rewards to do the exact opposite.
For his part, Favre did not think it was a big deal. Contacted on Friday, Favre told Peter King of Sports Illustrated: Im not pissed. Its football. I dont think anything less of those guys.
Goodell will not be so forgiving. Williams, as the defensive coordinator, is the man in the middle and he will pay a stiff price especially if it is determined that he had a similar plan in place when he was coaching in Washington prior to joining the Saints. (A Washington Post story Friday indicated he did).
Williams has apologized for his actions in New Orleans saying: It was a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry.
Loomis, the general manager, is in big trouble as well because it is clear in the leagues report that he knew what was going on and not only looked the other way, but lied to the league and team owner Tom Benson about trying to put a stop to it.
In the league report, it said: When informed earlier this year of the new information (about the bounties), Mr. Benson advised league staff that he had directed Loomis to ensure that any bounty program be discontinued immediately. The evidence shows that Mr. Loomis did not carry out Mr. Bensons direction.
Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010, he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged that he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices.
Eagles fans will remember when then-coach Buddy Ryan in 1989 was accused of putting a bounty on Dallas kicker and ex-Eagle Luis Zendejas. In a Thanksgiving Day game, rookie linebacker Jessie Small flattened Zendejas on a blindside hit that was, shall we say, suspicious.
Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson always insisted Small was carrying out orders, perhaps from Ryan, perhaps from another coach and for what its worth, I believe him but then commissioner Paul Tagliabue looked into the matter and could not find anything incriminating so it was eventually dropped.
This case, however, wont go away so quietly.