[Updated at 2:01 p.m. ET] The NFL is suspending former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely and Saints head coach Sean Payton for one year because of the team's bounty program, the league said Wednesday.
The Saints also will be fined $500,000 and will forfeit their second-round selections in the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts, the league said.
In addition, the league is suspending Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season, and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six regular-season games, the NFL said in a statement.
‚ÄúA combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,‚ÄĚ NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. ‚ÄúWhen 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.‚ÄĚ
The NFL reported this year that the Saints paid defensive players a bounty for injuring opponents as well as making interceptions and fumble recoveries during the 2009-2011 seasons. The program involved as many as 27 players and at least one assistant coach, the league concluded following an investigation.
The league said the program was administered by then-defensive coordinator Williams – who now holds the same position with the St. Louis Rams – with the knowledge of other coaches. Players regularly contributed cash to a pool, which may have topped $50,000 at its peak.
The players were paid $1,500 for a "knockout," when an opposing player was not able to return to the game, and $1,000 for a "cart-off," when an opposing player had to be carried off the field. In some cases, particular players on the opposing team were targeted, the NFL said.
After the program was reported on, Payton and Loomis said they took "full responsibility" for the practice, which they said "happened under our watch."
"These are serious violations, and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Loomis and Payton said in a statement this year.
Also Wednesday, Goodell sent a memo to all teams instructing them to certify that they have no bounty program. Each principal owner and head coach must make the certification in writing to the commissioner by March 30, the NFL said.
‚ÄúBounty programs have no place in our game,‚ÄĚ Goodell said. ‚ÄúThey are incompatible with our efforts to promote sportsmanship, fair play and player safety.‚ÄĚ
Goodell will review Williams‚Äô status after the 2012 season, and will pay "close attention to the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings," the NFL said.
Williams' suspension is immediate, while Payton's begins April 1.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote a letter to fans following the investigation's conclusion, saying he was never aware of the infamous bounty program in which his team admitted to taking part.
"I do feel a responsibility to my teammates, the Saints organization and to the fans, to address the "bounty" allegations," Brees wrote in a letter posted Friday on his foundation's website. "There is no place in the National Football League, or any sport played at any level, for players to conspire, to be coerced, or to be incentivized to intentionally injure another player. I did not participate in any bounty program, nor did I have any knowledge relating to its real existence."
Many former players say "bounty" incentive programs have existed in professional football for a long time. Players, who question why this scandal is shocking so many fans, say football is a violent sport built around punishing opponents.
LaVar Arrington, a former Washington Redskins linebacker who writes the Hard Hits blog for The Washington Post, wrote after the investigation that the best players in the history of football have always brought a "seek and destroy mentality" to the game.
"So in a culture where it's an unwritten part of the game to get the best opposing player out of it, that's what players have done and still do to this day. The fact that there's such outrage appears to be a bit strange to me," Arrington¬†wrote on his blog.
The NFL said the bounty program was a clear violation of rules intended to protect "player safety and competitive integrity."FULL STORY