As far as the NFL is concerned, the Bounty Gate is closed. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed the discipline he handed down to the four players involved in the bounty case, which took place within the New Orleans Saints organization over the last three seasons. While Head Coach Sean Peyton (16 games), General Manager Mickey Loomis (8 games), Assistant Coach Joe Vitt (6 games) and Greg Williams (16 games), who was hired by Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams, remain on the outside looking in as they carry out their suspensions.
The four players will start their suspensions immediately after meeting with the Commissioner, despite having one on one meeting to tell their stories in person. This was the first time they agreed to talk directly with the NFL and told their side of the much drawn out situation that was denied early.
The Commissioner stated his decision making process was based on his investigation of the “bounty program” which was an incentive based performance for cart-offs and knock outs to opposing players on the Saints’ schedule. A letter was sent to all players involved, as well as the 32 clubs.
“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell noted in a memorandum to the clubs.
The last meetings were a directive of the CBA Appeals Panel that recommended the Commissioner review the discipline that was handled out earlier in year, and give clarity on whether any or all was related to salary cap violations.
“In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” Goodell also wrote. “In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”
Below are some quotes from the Commissioners letters sent to each individual player provided by NFL Communications;
Jonathan Vilma is currently on New Orleans Saints PUP (physically unable to perform) list rehabbing his knee, his suspension has not changed, out for the season. Because he was on the PUP listing he received six weeks of his salary.
“At our meeting, you confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a broader program in place among the Saints’ defensive players. You confirmed that these terms referred to plays in which an opposing player has to leave the game for one or more plays. You confirmed that, as Coach Vitt testified, an opposing player’s need for smelling salts under a trainer’s care was a consequence of the kind that the program sought to achieve and for which players were offered cash rewards from the incentive pool”.
“I also find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by offering a substantial financial incentive to any member of the defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the Saints’ 2009 NFC playoff game against the Vikings. (There is also credible evidence that you made a similar pledge regarding Kurt Warner in the immediately preceding playoff game against the Cardinals, but whether you made multiple pledges of that kind does not matter for purposes of the discipline that I have decided to impose.)”.
“Both Coach Williams and Mr. [Mike] Cerullo have submitted statements under oath attesting to the fact that you made such an offer at a pre-game meeting of the Saints’ defensive unit. I have personally met with both men and have had an opportunity to assess their credibility. I am not persuaded by any suggestion that either Mr. Williams or Mr. Cerullo had an incentive to testify falsely, under penalty of perjury, about such conduct by you or by any other player. With respect to Coach Williams, you and he have repeatedly spoken highly of each other, and nobody has identified any reason why he would make false charges against the Saints or you in particular. In that respect, it is telling that even though he had already left the Saints and signed a contract to be the Defensive Coordinator for the Rams, Coach Williams continued to deny the existence of the program in its entirety, and acknowledged the program and his role in it only after detailed questioning by our investigators”.
“Equally important, neither Mr. Williams nor Mr. Cerullo was made aware of the substance of the information provided by the other in the investigation; as one example, each independently volunteered to investigators that the bounty that you pledged with respect to Mr. Favre was in the specific amount of $10,000”.
“Furthermore, Coach [Joe] Vitt recalled that players made a number of pledges at that particular meeting and that the meeting ‘got out of hand.’ Mr. Fujita informed me that he believes that players made pledges of payments for ‘big plays’ at that meeting. Those statements support the written declarations, made under penalty of perjury, by Coach Williams and Mr. Cerullo about the events of that evening. In contrast, your statement that nothing out of the ordinary happened and that no pledges were made by anyone at that meeting is inconsistent with the information provided by other players and is simply not persuasive”.
“In addition, as you know, in early 2010 a Vikings player informed Coach Childress that a Saints player had told him that a bounty had been placed on Mr. Favre. There is also video evidence that a Saints player said; ‘Give me my money’ immediately after Coach Vitt told the defensive unit (incorrectly) that Mr. Favre’s leg had been broken and that he would not be returning to the game”.
“I find, based on all of these facts and the entire record described above, that you did, in fact, pledge money to any teammate who injured or disabled Mr. Favre to an extent that he would not be able to continue playing in the playoff game. I recognize that you and some of your teammates have denied that you made such a pledge or claim not to recall your doing so, but I am persuaded, based on the entirety of the record before me, that you did so. And I find that such a pledge or any similar incentive is conduct detrimental.”
Will Smith (New Orleans Saints) The original suspension of four games remains the same.
“At our meeting in September, you confirmed that you expressed approval of the program when it was first presented to you by Coach Williams. You also confirmed that you provided money to the program pool both at the beginning of the season and again during the playoffs. I understand that you deny that anyone intended to inflict injury on any opposing player. Even in the face of repeated appeals to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart the guy off,’ you and others now claim that the objective was instead merely to ‘knock the wind out’ of your opponents, requiring them to leave the game for only a play or two. From the standpoint of player safety, fair competition, and the integrity of the game, the issues with which I am concerned today, this kind of after-the-fact explanation is little more than wordplay that, in my judgment as Commissioner, offers no basis on which to excuse conduct that does not belong in professional football. Such behavior is conduct detrimental without regard to the precise extent or duration of the disability intended”.
“Accordingly, and based on the entire record before me, I find that you endorsed and agreed to, and contributed substantial sums toward, a program that incentivized, encouraged and paid players to cause cart-offs and knockouts, plays in which an opposing player is injured or disabled and unable to continue playing, whether temporarily (cart-off) or for the remainder of the game or longer (knockout). Encouraging and rewarding cart-offs and knockouts represents an effort to cause or to seek to cause injury to and to disable opposing players, and such conduct is detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, professional football, regardless of whether the hit that causes the cart-off or knockout is ‘clean’ or ‘dirty,’ i.e., subject to penalty or fine under on-field playing rules.”
Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns) had his suspension changed from three games to one.
“While I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool, there is no serious question that you were aware of the pool and its elements, including that it provided rewards for cart-offs. Indeed, Mr. [Jonathan] Vilma testified that Coach [Gregg] Williams brought the program to the team’s defensive leaders before the 2009 season and that you supported and endorsed it. Your own comments confirm that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off’ the playing field”.
“I find that your violation of the rule, which protects the integrity of the game, constitutes conduct detrimental to the League. Accordingly, I have determined that you should be suspended without pay for one game. For the avoidance of doubt, none of this discipline is imposed because your offers or payments to other players were not disclosed to the League. If you had disclosed your offers or payments, they still would have violated the Constitution and Bylaws provisions discussed above and constituted conduct detrimental. “
Anthony Hargrove (No longer in the NFL, street free agent) Had his suspension reduced from eight games to seven. He will be credited for five games missed while a free agent, and will serve a two-game suspension once he is signed by a club in 2012.
“In response to a request for clarification from System Arbitrator Burbank, I previously advised you that the ‘vast majority’ of your discipline was based on your lack of candor to the League’s investigators. So that there is no question about the basis on which discipline is being imposed, I find that your misleading a League investigator and your obstruction of the League’s investigation constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
On this merry –go-round called Bounty Gate 2012, are the suspensions final and will they be carried out before the end of the 2012 season. Lies by all involved that covered up more lies, have been admitted and those with heavy involvement have been dealt with in a swift manner from coaches, general manager and players. The other questions being asked are who blew the whistle and when will the public get to see the full list of witnesses (other than coaches and players telling on each other). The players have 72 hours to appeal, question who will hear the appeals, that’s right the NFL Commissioner and possibly the Federal Court system.
UPDATED 10-10-12 4:25pm
To view the original documents recovered in the NFL’s investigation. Log onto http://nflcommunications.com