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Laying down the hammer: NFL suspends Payton for one year
New York, NY (Sports Network) - The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton without pay for one season and suspended former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely as part of the severe punishments it handed down Wednesday for the team's bounty program.
Payton's suspension is effective April 1 and Williams -- hired recently as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams -- will have his status reviewed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the end of the upcoming season.
Also, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the first eight regular season games and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six.
New Orleans will also forfeit second-round draft picks in 2012 and '13 and was fined $500,000 in the wake of the league's discovery that players utilized a bounty program from 2009-11 that included payments to players for inflicting game-ending injuries on competitors.
In a statement, Goodell said: "We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised."
Goodell issued a memo telling every NFL team it must certify that no such bounty program exists. The certification is to be presented in writing by each principle owner and head coach by March 30.
"Bounty programs have no place in our game," the commissioner said in another statement. "They are incompatible with our efforts to promote sportsmanship, fair play, and player safety."
In a statement released by the Rams to media outlets, Williams apologized for the program and said his involvement was "not a true reflection of my values as a father or coach, nor is it reflective of the great respect I have for this game and its core principle of sportsmanship."
"I accept full responsibility for my actions," said Williams. "I highly value the 23 years that I've spent in the NFL. I will continue to cooperate fully with the league and its investigation and I will focus my energies on serving as an advocate for both player safety and sportsmanship.
"I will do everything possible to re-earn the respect of my colleagues, the NFL and its players in hopes of returning to coaching in the future."
Williams, who reportedly had similar programs in place as head coach of the Bills and defensive coordinator of the Redskins, will now rely on Goodell to determine whether or not he is reinstated and, if so, on what terms.
"Not a good day for the National Football League," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at an afternoon press conference.
Fisher said he would not name a new defensive coordinator to replace Williams and that the responsibilities of the position would be done as "a collective effort."
Fisher had no idea when Williams was hired what was coming, although he said he had been anticipating the coordinator's suspension for a couple of days.
"He's remorseful," Fisher said of Williams, "and he regrets the decisions he made. He accepts the consequences."
Goodell said in his statement on the penalties that "a combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious."
"When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three- year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game," said Goodell.
The Saints agreed.
"To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations," the team said in a statement.
"It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner. There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again."
On March 2, the league released the results of a lengthy investigation that uncovered the bounty program used from 2009-11.
The investigation found that between 22 and 27 Saints defensive players, as well as at least one assistant coach, maintained the illegal program.
According to the NFL, players regularly contributed money into a pool and received cash payments based on their performance in the previous week's games.
Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, but also included compensation for injury-inducing plays.
The pool paid $1,500 for a "knockout" -- meaning the opposing player was unable to return to the game -- and $1,000 for a "cart-off" -- meaning the opposing player was carried off the field. The total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at the program's peak during the 2009 playoffs.
The NFL's investigation included "the review of approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals and the use of outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents."
Reports surfaced that Williams had a similar bounty system in place when he was head coach in Buffalo from 2001-03, promoting cash bonuses for hits that seriously injured opposing players.
Williams also reportedly had a bounty system in the mid-2000s that rewarded Redskins players with thousands of dollars.
Following the NFL's March 2 announcement of its initial findings, the league office conducted a further investigation.
Goodell decided that the actions of the individuals disciplined violated league rules and constituted conduct detrimental to the league and players. He said the existence of a pay-for-performance bounty program undermined the integrity of the game.
The violations were compounded by the failure of Payton to supervise the players and coaches and his affirmative decision starting in 2010 not to inquire into the facts concerning the bounty program even though he was aware of the league's inquiries both in 2010 and 2012.
The league found Payton falsely denied that the program existed and encouraged the false denials by instructing assistants to "make sure our ducks are in a row." He ignored instructions from the NFL office and club ownership to ensure that no such program existed.
"Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league's most important initiatives -- enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game," Goodell said.
"Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so," he continued. "Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL."
The statement released by the NFL on Wednesday listed the following findings in the investigation:
1. The Saints defensive team operated a pay-for-performance/bounty program, primarily funded by players, during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons. Under that program, players regularly made cash "donations" to a pool, and were "fined" for mental errors, loafing, penalties, and the like. At least one assistant coach (defensive coordinator Williams) also occasionally contributed to the pool. There is no evidence that any club money was contributed to the program.
2. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries. All such payments are against league rules. Payments also were made for plays on which opposing players were injured. In addition, specific players were sometimes targeted. The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams - Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner. Multiple sources have confirmed that several players pledged funds toward bounties on specific opposing players, with defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offering $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
3. Coach Williams acknowledged that he designed and implemented the program with the assistance of certain defensive players. He said that he did so after being told by Payton that his assignment was to make the defense "nasty." coach Williams described his role as overseeing record keeping, defining payout amounts, deciding on who received payouts, and distributing envelopes with cash to players who "earned" rewards.
4. In each of the 2009-2011 seasons, the Saints were one of the top five teams in the league in roughing the passer penalties. In 2009 and 2011, the Saints were also in the top five teams in unnecessary roughness penalties; in 2010, the Saints ranked sixth in the category. In the January 16, 2010 divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saints defensive players were assessed $15,000 in fines for fouls committed against opposing players. The following week, in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saints defensive players were assessed $30,000 in fines for four separate illegal hits, several of which were directed against quarterback Brett Favre.
5. Coach Williams now acknowledges that when he was first questioned about this matter in early 2010 he intentionally misled NFL investigators and made no effort to stop the program after he became aware of the league's investigation.
6. Coach Williams further confirmed that the program continued during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and that he occasionally contributed funds to the pool in each of those seasons.
7. Assistant Head Coach/Defense Vitt acknowledged that he was aware of the program in 2009-2011. He admitted that, when interviewed in 2010, he "fabricated the truth" to NFL investigators and denied that any pay-for- performance or bounty program existed at the Saints.
8. Coach Vitt said one of his primary roles was to monitor the activity of coach Williams. This was based on the direction of coach Payton, who apparently had less than full confidence in coach Williams. Despite coach Vitt's knowledge of the bounty program, his understanding of the terms "knock- out" and "cart-off," his witnessing coach Williams handing out envelopes that he believed to contain cash, and his acknowledgement that the defensive meeting preceding the 2010 NFC Championship Game may have "got out of hand" with respect to Brett Favre, coach Vitt claimed he never advised either coach Payton or general manager Loomis of the "pay-for-performance/bounty" program.
9. A summary prepared following a Saints preseason game included the statement, "1 Cart-off - Crank up the John Deer (sic) Tractor" in reference to a hit on an opposing player. Similar statements are reflected in prepared documents or slides in connection with other games in multiple seasons. A review of the game films confirms that opposing players were injured on the plays identified in the documents.
10. When interviewed in 2012, Payton claimed to be entirely unaware of the program, a claim contradicted by others. Further, prior to the Saints� opening game in 2011, coach Payton received an email from a close associate that stated in part, "PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic)." When shown the email during the course of the investigation, coach Payton stated that it referred to a "bounty" on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
11. In early 2010, Mr. Loomis advised coach Payton that the league office was investigating allegations concerning a bounty program. Coach Payton said that he met with his top two defensive assistants, coach Williams and coach Vitt, in advance of the interview with league investigators and told them, "Let's make sure our ducks are in a row." Remarkably, coach Payton claimed that he never inquired of coach Williams and coach Vitt as to what happened in the interviews, never asked them if a "pay-for-performance" or bounty program was in fact in place, and never gave any instructions to discontinue such a program.
12. In January 2012, prior to the Saints' first playoff game of the 2011 season, coach Payton was advised by Mr. Loomis that the league office had reopened the investigation. coach Payton made a cursory inquiry but took no action to ensure that any bounty program was discontinued.
13. Loomis was not present at meetings of the Saints defense at which bounties were discussed and was not aware of bounties being placed on specific players. Mr. Loomis became aware of the allegations regarding a bounty program no later than February 2010 when he was notified of the investigation into the allegations during a meeting with NFL Executive Vice President-Football Operations Ray Anderson. He was directed to ensure that any such program ceased immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis did not do enough to determine if a pay-for-performance/bounty program existed or to end any such program that did exist.
14. Saints owner Tom Benson notified Mr. Loomis in January 2012 prior to the team's participation in the playoffs that the league's investigation had been reopened. Mr. Benson reiterated his position that a bounty program was unacceptable and instructed Mr. Loomis to ensure that if a bounty program existed at the Saints it would stop immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis responded to this direction by making only cursory inquiries of Coaches Payton and Williams. He never issued instructions to end the bounty program to either the coaching staff or the players.
15. There is no evidence that Saints ownership had any knowledge of the pay- for-performance or bounty program. There is no evidence that any club funds were used for the program. Ownership made clear that it disapproved of the program, gave prompt and clear direction that it stop, and gave full and immediate cooperation to league investigators.
03/21 19:36:00 ET
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