NFL Suspends Hargrove

New Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove was sidelined for eight games as the league dropped the hammer on the New Orleans' Saints "bounty" scandal on Wednesday. According to the NFL, "actively obstructed" the investigation.

The Green Bay Packers are hoping Anthony Hargrove can provide a shot in the arm to their abysmal interior pass rush.

Instead, any help from Hargrove will have to wait because he's been suspended for eight games by the league for his involvement in the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-performance "bounty" scandal.

Four players — Hargrove, Scott Fujita, Will Smith, and Jonathan Vilma — were notified on Wednesday that they have been suspended without pay, with Vilma getting a season-long suspension. The punishment comes from, the NFL said in a statement, "conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-performance/bounty program that endangered player safety" from 2009 through 2011.

With Hargrove suspended for eight games and Mike Neal for four games (performance enhancing drugs), the Packers will have to count heavily on second-round pick Jerel Worthy and fourth-round pick Mike Daniels to help B.J. Raji as the top interior pass rushers.

According to the NFL release: "Hargrove actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints. Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it. The evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target of a large bounty during the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. Hargrove also actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators. " 

The players have three days to appeal. The punishment was meted out by Commissioner Roger Goodell, who would hear the appeal.

"It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced," Goodell said. "Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field."

The NFLPA said the punishment was "not fair."

"After seeing the NFL's decision letters, the NFLPA has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. "We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf."

Hargrove, along with Fujita and Smith, may participate in offseason programs, as well as play in preseason games. Neither he nor Neal will count of the 53-man roster during their suspensions.

Hargrove signed a veteran's-minimum deal worth $825,000. He will lose $388,235 for the suspension.

The discipline for the others:

— Vilma is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions. The investigation concluded that while a captain of the defensive unit Vilma assisted Coach Williams in establishing and funding the program. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty — $10,000 in cash – to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week (played on January 24, 2010). Vilma is eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.

— Smith is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2012 regular season. Smith, a defensive end, assisted Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the program during a period in which he was a captain and leader of the defensive unit. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for "cart-offs" and "knockouts" of opposing players.

— Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2012 regular season. The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for "cart-offs" and "knockouts," plays during which an opposing player was injured.

According to the league, the evidence "conclusively demonstrated" that from 2009 through 2011, Saints players "of their own accord pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties, that players accepted payments for "cart-offs" and "knockouts" of injured opposing players, and that the payout amounts doubled and tripled for playoff games."

Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints' nonplayer employees such as coach Sean Payton (suspended for the entire season), that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level, Goodell noted.

"In assessing player discipline," Goodell said, "I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation."

Each of the four players met one or more of those criteria, Goodell said.

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