Answering your questions and commenting on your comments, here is todays dip into the mailbag. This time, it is an all-bounty mailbag.
Q. Regarding Gregg Williams and his bounty system, I agree that his penalty should be severe. However, I think others should have to pay as well. My recommendations are as follows:
1. Gregg Williams suspended without pay for one full year, including post-season.
2. Sean Payton suspended eight regular season games and up to two playoff games without pay.
3. New Orleans Saints name be vacated from the Lombardi Trophy.
4. New Orleans Saints franchise fine of 1,000,000.
5. New Orleans Saints defensive players from 2009 team each fined 50,000.
6. Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills franchises each fined 250,000.
If Roger Goodell really intends to make this game safe, he will put some sting into the punishment. Otherwise, he is simply paying lip service to safety.
A. If everything that has been alleged can be proven including the existence of a bounty system in Washington and Buffalo when Williams was coaching there Goodell will put plenty of sting in his punishment.
Goodell has made cleaning up the game a high priority since becoming commissioner. He talks constantly about player safety and taking dirty hits out of the game and he has dealt out heavy fines and suspensions to players that, in his opinion, went over the line. He has to take the same hard line on Williams and the Saints front office or else he will be called out for having a double standard.
It would not surprise me to see Williams, now the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, suspended for the entire 2012 season. Now it makes some sense why Williams, after a successful run as defensive coordinator in New Orleans, left for another job after last season and no one seemed surprised. Clearly, the Saints knew the league was about to drop this bounty bombshell, so parting ways with Williams was a way to minimize the damage.
Still, the Saints will be rocked by the league office. Im sure the fines will exceed the 750,000 total assessed against the Patriots and Bill Belichick for Spygate. Although Payton did not directly administer the bounty system, he knew about it and did nothing to stop it, so he should be suspended as well. Joe suggested eight regular season games plus two in the post-season. My guess is it will be less. Two games, perhaps as many as four.
Joes other recommendation stripping the Saints of their NFL championship and vacating that season on the Lombardi Trophy wont happen and it shouldnt. It would not be fair to the other players on the team who had nothing to do with this. Why should Drew Brees lose his claim to a world championship because of what Williams and some defensive players may have done?
Q. I hate to sound callous, but is this really such a big deal? This sort of thing has been going on in pro football for years, right? Now all of a sudden it is like a capital offense. What am I missing?
A. There has been a reward system of under-the-table payouts to players for years. Weve all heard stories about players being handed envelops with cash by coaches or teammates. It might be a few hundred bucks, maybe a thousand. It was a violation of league rules, but it was a dirty little secret that stayed within the team.
But here is the difference: In most cases, the rewards were for performance; that is to say, big plays. A forced fumble, a blocked punt, a special teams tackle inside the 20, that kind of thing. In some cases, a big hit. But thats different than saying: If you knock someone out of the game and they dont come back, its worth 1,500. It is far different obviously than putting a 10,000 bounty on a specific player such as Brett Favre.
Former Eagle Vai Sikahema called 97.5 The Fanatic Monday and talked about receiving 1,500 for his punt return touchdown against the Giants in 1992. He said Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner kicked in 500 apiece to reward him for making the big play. He said this sort of thing went on all the time and I believe him.
However, when Sikahema was asked if any of the rewards involved knocking opponents out of games or injuring opponents, he said no. To me, thats the big difference. If a team wants to slip a guy a few bucks for a nice play, I dont have a problem with that. The IRS probably does, but thats another story. But setting up a system that provides an incentive to injure a player on another team is simply wrong and should be treated accordingly.
Q. I watched the NFC championship game when the Saints beat Minnesota and I didnt see anything out of the ordinary. The Saints put some hard licks on Brett Favre, but isnt that what a defense is supposed to do? I think this (bounty) stuff is a lot of nonsense. Its football, right?
--Dave C., NE Philly
A. I suggest you go back and look at that game again, Dave. Two New Orleans linemen, Bobby McCray and Anthony Hargrove -- both of whom had a brief stop with the Eagles were fined by the league for hits on Favre in that game. In McCrays case, the fine was 20,000 which means even if he collected a bounty, he wound up losing money.
There were at least three plays in the game that I felt appeared to be deliberate attempts to injure. The first was the most blatant: McCray drilled Favre after he handed off to Percy Harvin. The ball was gone, Harvin was running the other way, there was no reason to hit the quarterback yet McCray hit Favre under the chin and sent him flying.
The second play was Hargrove hitting Favre after he threw a pass. The hit itself wasnt that late, but it was the way Hargrove slammed Favre to the turf, pile-driver fashion, that was way over the line and drew a roughing the passer penalty.
The third was the hit by McCray and Remi Ayodele, one high, one low, on Favre as he released a pass. That was the hit that left Favre writhing on the ground. The trainers had to help him off the field with an ankle injury that hampered him the rest of the game.
Favre now says its not a big deal. He is taking the macho, Hey, its a rough game position which, knowing Favre, I would expect. But that doesnt make it right.
Q. If it is proven that this bounty thing really goes on in the NFL, how will it impact the law suits that former players are bringing against the league? It would seem to be a powerful argument on their side.
--Carol B., Cherry Hill, N.J.
A. Thats a very good point, Carol, and it is one of the reasons why Goodell cant appear to go easy on the offenders here. There is a lot of litigation pending against the league in cases brought by former players claiming the NFL failed them in terms of safety, medical care and so forth.
If it is established in this matter that a bounty system existed and coaches were offering financial incentives for players to injure other players and team executives knew about it and looked the other way, it will certainly help the litigants. Players assume some risk by stepping on the field but they dont assume someone, especially a coach, putting a bounty on them.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org