Already shy their head coach, a key assistant and their general manager for all or part of the 2012 season, the New Orleans Saints might not have to wait much longer for the second shoe to drop in the NFL's "Bountygate" sanctions against the franchise.
Speaking at the annual league meetings here on Monday afternoon, commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that he would prefer to decide soon on possible punitive actions against players involved in the pay-for-pain excesses wrought by former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
"I would like to do it," Goodell said, "as soon as reasonable."
Goodell is awaiting recommendations from the NFLPA, with whom he has shared the league's report detailing the bounty indiscretions, and union executive director DeMaurice Smith. The commissioner said he hopes to discuss the recommendations by the NFLPA by the end of the week.
Arguably the player under most scrutiny is middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the eight-year veteran who reputedly contributed $50,000 to the pool established as a bounty against then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre before the 2009 NFC title game. But the league's report, following a lengthy investigation, determined that between 22-27 current and former players were involved in the bounties over the past three seasons.
So there has been speculation that multiple players could face suspensions.
When asked if he might "stagger" any suspensions to allow the New Orleans defense to remain competitive, Goodell allowed that he is "very aware of" the competitive aspects. That suggests that, because wholesale suspensions at one time could gut the Saints' defense, any sanctions or related suspensions could be spaced out.
One of the ramifications of the Bountygate scandal is that league owners have been mandated by Goodell to certify to the commissioner that no such programs exist with their franchises. Goodell conceded that "non-contract bonus payments have been happening around the league more than we'd like."
He also confirmed that the NFL has not closed the book on any subsequent bounty investigations. He was not specific about franchises that might be under scrutiny, but said that teams "will not get a free pass here" if bounties are found to exist.
Ostensibly, the commissioner suggested that the seriousness of the sanctions against the Saints were exacerbated by the failure of coach Sean Payton and other team officials to be honest with him when confronted with the evidence. He met twice with Payton, he said, about the charges.
"They were not forthright with what happened ... (and) it is not acceptable," the commissioner said.
Only one day before the Saints' first-round playoff matchup with Detroit during the 2011 season, Goodell dispatched a contingent including league counsel Jeff Pash and security chief Jeff Miller to New Orleans to apprise owner Tom Benson of the possible bounty, and ordering it to halt.
Benson addressed his colleagues on Monday and most hinted that he was remorseful. "Sincere and emotional and, frankly, probably embarrassed a little as well," Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said of Benson's remarks.
Goodell said Benson was "very open and expressed his disappointment."
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.