PALM BEACH, Fla. - 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
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
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