NFL: Saints defense had 'bounty' fund
Between 22 and 27 defensive players on the New Orleans Saints, as well as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, maintained a "bounty" program funded primarily by players in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the NFL announced Friday.
The investigation by the league's security department determined that an improper "pay for performance" program included "bounty" payments to players for inflicting injuries on opposing players that would result in them being removed from a game.
In some cases, the amounts pledged were both significant and directed against a specific opposing player, according to the league's investigation.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis failed to stop the bounty program when directed to do so by Saints owner Tom Benson, while coach Sean Payton was aware of the allegations but did not pursue them or take steps to stop the "bounty" program, according to the investigation's findings.
The findings, corroborated by multiple independent sources, have been presented to commissioner Roger Goodell, who will determine the appropriate discipline.
"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated," Goodell said in a statement.
"We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."
Goodell has advised the Saints that he will hold proceedings to determine potential discipline against the team and the individuals involved, and confer with the players' union regarding the appropriate punishment. That discipline could include fines, suspensions and the forfeiture of draft choices.
"I have been made aware of the NFL's findings relative to the 'Bounty Rule' and how it relates to our club. I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation," Benson said in a statement. "While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans."
Williams did not immediately return calls from ESPN seeking comment.
According to the investigation, the players regularly contributed cash into a pool and received improper cash payments of two kinds from the pool, based on their play in the previous week's game.
Williams administered the program with the knowledge of other defensive coaches and occasionally contributed funds, according to the league investigation.
Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries. But the program also included "bounty" payments for "cart-offs," meaning that the opposing player was carried off the field, and "knockouts," meaning that the opposing player was not able to return.
The investigation showed that the total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at its height during the 2009 playoffs. The program paid players $1,500 for a "knockout" and $1,000 for a "cart-off," with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs.
"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for 'performance,' but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said in a statement. "The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity."
The NFL has a longstanding rule prohibiting "non-contract bonuses," and they violate both the league constitution and bylaws and the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players' union.
Clubs are advised every year of this rule in a memo from the commissioner. Citing Sections 9.1(C)(8), and 9.3(F) and (G) of the Constitution and By-Laws, the memo for the 2011 season stated:
"No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team's performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players)."
"Our investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Kurt Warner of the Cardinals and Brett Favre of the Vikings," Goodell said in a statement. "Our security department interviewed numerous players and other individuals.
"At the time, those interviewed denied that any such program existed and the player that made the allegation retracted his earlier assertions. As a result, the allegations could not be proven," Goodell said.
"We recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season."
According to the NFL investigation, Benson was not initially aware of the bounty program and directed Loomis to make sure it was discontinued immediately. The evidence showed Loomis did not do so, investigators found.
"Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010, he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged that he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices," according to the league's findings.
Payton "was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the program," according to the investigation.
However, Payton "was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue," the investigation found.
The investigation included the review of approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals and the use of outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
New Orleans Saints defense had 'bounty' program, NFL says - ESPN
Saints Had Bounty Program Last Three Seasons........
Ordinarily I would post this in the Rivals forum but because it had a direct impact on a Bears player and quite possibly the season I thought I'd post it here first. If Staff wants to relocate this is fine with me. :cheers:
Saints bounty program sets off alarms in NFL
KO of Bennett in Week 2 may have cost Bears, paid off for safety Harper
By Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune reporter 8:32 p.m. CST, March 2, 2012
In an NFL that is increasingly consumed with player safety, the idea of placing bounties on opponents will set off sirens and alarms.
That's the message the league sent Friday when it announced the Saints will be punished for a bounty program that has been in effect for the last three seasons.
The punishment, which will be decided by Commissioner Roger Goodell, is likely to include the loss of draft choices over multiple years, including at least one first-round pick.
Fines could reach millions of dollars and be levied against the Saints organization, general manager Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Payton, then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, other defensive coaches and linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, who have served as defensive captains. Suspensions also are possible.
The investigation concluded players regularly contributed cash into a pool and received payments for accomplishments including "cart-offs," meaning the opposing player was carted off the field, and "knockouts," meaning the opposing player was not able to return to the game.
The league said the program paid players $1,500 for a knockout and $1,000 for a cart-off, with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs. Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to anyone who could knock out then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC championship game.
Using that as a guide, Saints safety Roman Harper likely received $1,500 for putting his helmet to the chest of Bears receiver Earl Bennett in the first quarter Sept. 18. Bennett walked off the field but was brought to the locker room for tests. He briefly returned to the game but did not stay and missed the following five games.
Harper also was penalized for roughing the passer in that game, and quarterback Jay Cutler said he was kicked in the throat by a Saints defender.
"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for performance but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said.
"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated."
Williams, now the Rams' defensive coordinator, released a statement that read, "I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. (Tom) Benson (owner of the Saints), and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay for performance' program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."
Four Redskins who played under Williams when he was the defensive coordinator in Washington told the Washington Post there was a bounty system in place there as well, with players earning up to thousands of dollars for plays that included "kill shots."
Punishments could affect the Redskins, the Rams (if Williams is suspended) and the Raiders (if new head coach Dennis Allen, a former Saints assistant, is suspended) as well as the Saints.
Bounties have been a part of the NFL for decades. Though bounties clearly are in violation of the league's bylaws, the NFL never has gone after perpetrators in this manner.
Williams is a disciple of Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher, the former Bears defensive back, is a disciple of former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
There has been talk for years that Ryan encouraged bounties on opposing players going back to his days with the Bears.
The NFL said Williams contributed to the bounty fund himself, but it has not been established that Ryan did the same.
Former Bears defensive lineman Dan Hampton said, "With us, it was, hey Otis (Wilson), if you knock out Eric Dickerson, I'll buy you lunch. It was between players."
Former Bears kicker Kevin Butler once said players put money in a bag, and the money would go to a player who knocked out a quarterback. The Bears also had monetary incentives for knocking out opposing kickers.
In 1989, when Ryan was head coach of the Eagles, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson accused him of placing bounties on quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas and refused to shake his hand after a Thanksgiving game.
In today's NFL, a coach who deals in bounties can have more serious repercussions to deal with than a handshake snub.