FOX Sports Exclusive
Players buzzing over bounty penalty
MARCO ISLAND, Fla.
Although the reelection of executive director DeMaurice Smith was the biggest NFL Players Association news Thursday, the biggest buzz at the union’s annual meeting was generated by the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
The NFL announced heavy sanctions against the Saints on Wednesday after concluding an investigation that proved former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams administered an illegal bounty program between 2009 and 2011. New Orleans defenders were financially compensated for injuring opposing offensive players.
Williams, who left the team in January to become defensive coordinator in St. Louis, was suspended indefinitely Wednesday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season. General manager Mickey Loomis (eight-game suspension) and assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt (six) also were disciplined. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks.
The NFL said four quarterbacks were specifically targeted by the Saints. One of them was dynamic Carolina Panthers rookie Cam Newton in 2011. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said he could understand why Newton was on a proverbial hit list.
“When you see Cam come in and produce, you wonder why they wouldn’t select him as one of those guys to go after because he meant so much to our team,” Davis said.
Suspensions and fines for players who were involved are forthcoming. NFLPA executive George Atallah said he hopes the union is consulted in that disciplinary process. He said the NFLPA was unaware the league had conducted a lengthy investigation into the Saints until the day that findings were announced to the media. Atallah also said the NFLPA still has not received access to the full report that was compiled.
“It’s not ideal for us to have learned of this three hours before a public release (or) to have not gotten the full cooperation of the league and the Saints to at least assist us in talking to coaches or members of management that may have been involved not just from a discipline standpoint but a changing-of-the-culture-of-the-game side,” Atallah said. “If that’s something pervasive league-wide and is not just an isolated thing on the Saints, we want to know about it and help clean it up, too. I think it’s only fair that we’re brought in with the spirit of transparency and partnership to be part of that conversation.
“We’ve got to have a better line of communication as it relates to information exchange.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is at the NFLPA meetings, declined an invitation to appear on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
The unprecedented severity of Goodell’s punishment has become a hot debate topic. Wilson said he supports the penalties that were levied.
“Anybody who has played this game, there’s a 100 percent injury risk under normal circumstances,” said Wilson, a six-year NFL veteran. “To hear there have been bounties placed on the heads of players … I understand you have incentive for interceptions or fumbles where you’re not trying to cause bodily harm to another man. But to actually put a price tag on somebody else’s head and go out there with the intent of trying to hurt that man and take food out of his family’s mouth, it’s unacceptable.
“I think (Goodell) is trying to make sure he sends the right message that this will not be tolerated. We’re trying to focus on the health and safety on our players. This was a direct attack on that. The commissioner had to do what he did to send that message.”
Davis believes the message was heard loud and clear across the league.
“If you look at the punishment that was handed out, I think that’s the last you’ll see of that,” he said. “It was pretty harsh and I think he was pretty direct in the things he did.”