The suspension appeals of three key members of the New Orleans Saints for their involvement in a bounty scandal were denied.
The NFL announced Monday that the punishment levied by commissioner Roger Goodell would stand for head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt.
Payton’s suspension will begin on April 16 and he will be forced to miss the entire 2012 season. The suspensions of Loomis (eight games) and Vitt (six) will begin at the end of the preseason.
The Saints also were fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks.
"The club and the individuals will be expected to cooperate in any further proceedings and to assist in the development and implementation of programs to instruct players and coaches at all levels on principles of player safety, fair play, and sportsmanship," the league said in a statement.
However, if the Saints "embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way," Goodell could reduce the financial penalties on the individuals. In the case of the team, the commissioner would "consider whether there are factors that would support modifying the forfeiture of the team’s 2013 second-round draft choice."
Payton, Loomis and Vitt traveled to NFL headquarters in New York City last week to appeal the suspensions that were levied by Goodell in March. A lengthy NFL investigation revealed the Saints ran an illegal bounty program from 2009 to 2011 that targeted opposing offensive players. Saints defenders were offered cash incentives for hits categorized as “knock-outs” and “cart-offs.”
Ex-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was the bounty program’s ringleader, was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. Williams did not appeal the decision.
Goodell determined that Payton and Loomis didn’t do enough to stop the program despite warnings from league officials.
New Orleans has yet to name a 2012 replacement for Payton, who has led the franchise to unprecedented success and its first Super Bowl title during his first six seasons with the Saints. New Orleans has spoken with Bill Parcells about returning as a one-year fill-in until Payton’s suspension is lifted. There also is a strong possibility that Vitt will assume an interim head coaching role once his suspension is lifted.
Next on Goodell’s agenda: discipline for players involved in the bounty program that began in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Given recent history, at least some of those penalties are likely to be tough, too.
The Saints case represents perhaps the starkest example yet of the sea change that the NFL has undergone since medical research and media reports on the long-term damage suffered by football players through concussions began to gain attention.
As recently as October 2009, while testifying before Congress, Goodell did not acknowledge a link between head injuries on the field and brain diseases later in life. And hundreds of NFL retirees are now suing the league for health problems they say began with their playing careers.
Yet the league has taken a series of steps to better protect players in the past couple of years, and just last month expanded the definition of ”defenseless players” who may not be hit in the head or neck and cannot be hit by someone leading with a helmet.
While NFL veterans say off-the-books incentives have been around for years, and some current players claim tough talk about hitting opponents where they are injured happens in locker rooms throughout the league, Goodell responded to the Saints case by handing out unprecedented penalties.
Suspensions for New Orleans players who participated in the bounty pool could be coming within days.
Goodell set a precedent last season when he made Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sit out for two games after stomping on an opponent, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison one game for a brutal tackle that gave Browns quarterback Colt McCoy a concussion.
The NFL has said as many as 27 players also could be sanctioned in the scandal. That might include former Saints defensive regulars who have signed elsewhere.
While the Saints await punishment for some players, they have the not-so-small task of finding an interim coach to replace Payton. They have talked to Parcells, Payton’s mentor since their days together in Dallas, about coming out of retirement.
Parcells, who turns 71 in August, has said he would consider coaching the Saints if asked to help his former protege. Parcells won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and took the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, but has not coached since retiring from the Cowboys after the 2006 season, though he then worked in Miami’s front office.
If the Saints were to hire Parcells or anyone from outside the organization, the club would have to interview a minority candidate to comply with the NFL’s ”Rooney Rule.”
Because Loomis can remain as GM until late summer, he will oversee the draft in late April and handle other roster moves. Loomis had been told by Saints owner Tom Benson to ensure that the bounty program was dismantled, but did not act.
Payton has said he laid out plans for the offseason training program and the late July beginning of training camp. The Saints play Arizona in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio, the league’s first preseason game.