[Updated at 12:47 p.m. ET] The NFL on Wednesday suspended four current or former New Orleans Saints players for varying lengths – including linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the 2012-2013 season – for their roles in a scandal involving bonuses for trying to hurt opponents.
The league said the suspended players – Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith – had leadership roles in the pay-for-injury program, for which the NFL suspended three coaches and the Saints' general manager earlier this year.
Vilma, a defensive captain, helped the team's defensive coordinator establish and fund the program, the league said in a news release.
"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," the league said.
In March, the NFL said an investigation found the Saints had an "active bounty program" during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. During this time, players were purportedly offered "bounty" payments if they managed to hurt opposing players and knock them out of a game.
The following are the details of the other players' suspensions:
– Hargrove, a defensive lineman now with the Green Bay Packers, is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the season. The league said Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Favre was a target of a large bounty during January's NFC Championship Game. "Hargrove also actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators," the league said.
– Smith, a Saints defensive end, is suspended without pay for the first four games of the season. Smith, while a defensive captain, assisted the defensive coordinator "in establishing and funding the program," the NFL said. "Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts' of opposing players," the league said.
– Fujita, a linebacker now with the Cleveland Browns, is suspended without pay for the first three games of the season. He "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 league said. "The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts,' plays during which an opposing player was injured."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an NFL news release, "No bounty program can exist without active player participation. The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
In March, the NFL handed down an indefinite ban to Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator who, in this past off-season, moved over to take that same position with the St. Louis Rams.
The NFL in March also suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for the 2012-2013 season and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for that season's first eight regular-season games. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games.
The league said in April that it might consider "modifying the forfeiture" of the 2013 draft pick for the Saints, assuming other conditions are met.FULL STORY