The stern NFL commissioner has no regrets about suspending New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for an entire season without pay at a cost of several million dollars, suspending general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games and fining the Saints $500,000 and docking second-round draft picks each of the next two years.
Why? Because they lied about Bountygate, a pay-for-pain program instituted by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who has been suspended indefinitely. Repeatedly. Lying. And breaking NFL rules regarding player safety.
"It's a violation of a very serious rule," Goodell said today during the annual NFL owners meetings. "We have made player health and safety very clear as a priority. I have addressed it with owners, head coaches, general managers and all of our personnel several times a year. When this first was raised over two years ago, there were denials. They frankly were not forthright with what was happening, and that continued.
"And it continued even through our investigation into the past several weeks. So, it's a serious violation of our policy. It is something that has zero tolerance in the NFL. It's not acceptable to hide the issues, continue to violate NFL policy, put our players at risk. That's going to be dealt with very harshly."
Should Payton appeal by April 2, one day after his suspension is slated to begin, the NFL would allow him to keep working during that time span. However, an expedited ruling would likely happen. And the result is predictable: Denied.
Goodell added that the Saints must comply with the Rooney rule regarding interviewing minority candidates if they go with an outside hire for their interim coach.
"Yes, they can't take somebody from another staff," Goodell said. "But they could take somebody who's not employed right now in the NFL."
Although Payton has spoken to former NFL coach Bill Parcells, Parcells told reporters today that he's unlikely to pursue the job.
Goodell said that the NFL has no intention of interfering if Payton should pursue television opportunities.
Meanwhile, Goodell said that the NFL continues to investigate whether other teams have also engaged in bounties. "I think it's fair to say that non-contract bonus payments have been happening throughout the league more frequently than we would like," Goodell said. "And that is going to be discontinued. The problem is these payments escalate.
"We have not found any evidence that this is happening around the league. We haven't closed the investigation. If we get information, we follow up on it." Goodell made the point that he wasn't sure if the Saints had stopped the bounties during the playoffs last winter.
"I don't know," Goodell said. "Our point was if there is one you better make sure it's not in effect because we're continuing our investigation."
Judging from Goodell's tone regarding Payton and the Saints, the chances of a successful appeal appear to be slim to none.
Saints owner Tom Benson expressed regret for the scandal to his fellow owners, adding that he didn't know what was going on.
"He was very open with the clubs," Goodell said. "He expressed his disappointment that this occurred."
For more coverage of the NFL, go to profootball.scout.com.
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Goodell says Saints kept lying
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