Bounties: 'Exception rather than the rule'

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In the midst of the early glimpses into the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, this nugget escaped us on the blog: Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy suggested that the Tennessee Titans had a bounty on quarterback Peyton Manning during the time when Jim Schwartz was their defensive coordinator.

It was at least the second time that Dungy had indirectly criticized the Detroit head coach in a public forum; the first came last November when Dungy said the Lions needed to do a better job of keeping defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh under control.

During a break Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings, Schwartz was asked if Dungy's newest criticism was accurate: Did the Titans have a bounty on Manning during that time period?

Schwartz's initial response: "I don't have any comment on what Tony Dungy said."

Schwartz, however, went on to speak extensively on the distinction between encouraging aggressive, legal play and organizing illegal bounties. He suggested public discussion on the Saints' program has lumped too many unrelated practices together and said his intent has always been to elicit "a big hit within the rules."

Like many defensive coordinators, Schwartz said he awarded players with a lacquered baseball bat, and later boxing gloves, for the biggest legal hit in a game when he was with the Titans. Many special-teams coaches, he said, print T-shirts with aggressive mantras on the front.

"There's a big difference between that and cash bonuses and bounties and things like that to put people out of the game," Schwartz said. "I think people focus more on the exception rather than the rule."

I agree that, in some segments of this debate, the lines have blurred between aggressive players and players who have been incentivized with cash to injure players with cash. The former is a part of the game. The latter should never be. It's wrong to view the two in the same light.

"This is a game that is meant to be played with a physical nature," Schwartz said. "You're trying to hit guys as hard as you can. You're not trying to get penalties and not doing anything to encourage penalties."