NFL suspends Saints coach, ex-coordinator over bounty program
Saints head coach Sean Payton's one-year suspension begins April 1 as a result of his team's bounty program.
March 21st, 2012
02:01 PM ET

NFL suspends Saints coach, ex-coordinator over bounty program

[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.

“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. “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.”

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.

“Bounty programs have no place in our game,” Goodell said. “They are incompatible with our efforts to promote sportsmanship, fair play and player safety.”

Goodell will review Williams’ 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."

soundoff (302 Responses)
  1. greazy

    sounds like the nfl is doing its best to keep the saints out of superbowl this come bellichick didn't get suspended a single game?

    March 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick Lewis

      Because spygate, though sleasy, wasn't going to get anyone killed or maimed on the field.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat Gleason

      I do not buy that the NFL is conspiring to keep the Saints out of a Super Bowl. That's whining. Was Belichick convicted of head hunting???

      March 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joel

    Well, I guess the Defensive Coordinator job at the Rams just opened up.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Patrick Lewis

    Good. Fits the crime. Hope Williams gets banned for life.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    Sean Payton is to football what Steve Talbott is to our economy.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RMJ

    Because former football players are now suing the league for long term injuries sustained while playing the game, the league had no choice but to come down hard. They have to put the message out there that this will not be tolerated and demonstrate that they are trying to protect their-for lack of a better word-"employees."

    March 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. holdem

    Lets just turn the NFL into a flag football game.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bye Bye Saints

    Who is going to coach the team, the locker room towel boy?

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peter

    You people realize that this bounty thing has been happening in football years and years, starting at the high school level? Almost every team does something similar. It's just that the Saints got caught.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Agreed

      Actually starts in Little League! We were given "treats" for the hardest hits etc.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. M. Edward

    It’s very hard to believe that Saints quarterback Drew Brees was “unaware” of the bounty practices. A Super Bowl seasoned quarter back of his caliber, and one would say the "leader" of the team, doesn’t know that the hat is passed around for a bounty pool. Brees would have to have been the dumbest, blind and deaf player in all of the NFL; did he think the hat was passed for flowers? Please...I understand that stars have big egos, but to send a "letter" to fans, give us a break!

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Drew Brees is throwing his fellow teammates under the bus, I wonder how much protection he's going to get from his OL in 2012? LOL

      March 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AC Summers

    DANG!! Drew way to back you team...
    Everyone knew but Drew... 😉
    Yeah Right we know though..

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Matt

    This is just to funny rofl

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sam

    I wonder how long an "indefinite" suspension is going to be for Gregg Williams. This is going to hurt not just the Saints organization and the persons directly responsible for the "pay for hit" program, but the Rams, who just hired Williams as Defensive Coordinator, as well. I think Jeff Fisher probably has no choice but to fire Williams and find a new guy.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. danny

    For Drew Brees to say that he is not aware of the bounty program is just unbelievable, isn't he the team leader? isn't he the quarterback?

    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cutedog2


    March 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ed

    NFL players make enough money and know what they are getting into – I think ever defensive player should try to end carrers everytime they hit the field... Where are the mike ditka's of the game? That's why the nfl sucks now. Bring on the hits. You get hurt then maybe you shouldn't be playing it anyway.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "I think ever defensive player should try to end carrers everytime they hit the field"

      holy crap man, its just a game, get some perspective here.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • M. Edward

      Agreed and well need a new Coliseum, the one in Rome is just too obsolete. A modern facility would require blood absorbing surface and super large video screens placed generously around with HD and super sound so that the spectators (fans) could get a good close-up.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
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