- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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First, contrary to an NFL statement last week, the declaration offered neither confirmation of a New Orleans Saints bounty program nor an admission that Hargrove participated in one when he played for the Saints in 2009 and 2010. Instead, the declaration revolves around Hargrove's contention that then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and assistant head coach Joe Vitt instructed Hargrove to deny all knowledge and existence of a bounty program when NFL investigators questioned him in 2010. Specifically, Hargrove said he was told to "play dumb."
Second, the declaration frankly paints a scene of the two Saints coaches blackmailing and implicitly threatening a player who at the time was one year removed from serving a year-long NFL suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse program. According to the document, which Hargrove signed last month, Williams told Hargrove he had been working on a depth chart and had penciled him in as the starting left end after a year spent mostly as a reserve defensive lineman.
Williams used that nugget to start a conversation that ended with him asking Hargrove to fend off NFL investigators. There was no overt mention of a quid pro quo, but I think any reasonably intelligent person can see what Williams was up to, at least based on the account Hargrove gave in his declaration.
After following Williams' instructions, Hargrove reported he was "never given an opportunity to compete for the starting defensive end job." I guess someone could consider Hargrove's return to reserve status in 2010 as evidence that there was no quid pro quo. It could also be a broken promise made to elicit loyalty.
Meanwhile, the declaration implies that Vitt also requested a degree of loyalty because he was part of the St. Louis Rams' coaching staff when Hargrove was drafted in 2004. Vitt also played a role in bringing Hargrove to the Saints in 2009, vouching for him when few teams were willing to offer him a contract.
Obviously there are two sides to every story, and as we hinted at last week, this declaration helps paint a broader role of Hargrove's participation in the investigation and the merit, or lack thereof, for the eight-game suspension he has been served with to start the 2012 season.
On the surface, the declaration doesn't provide the information the NFL claimed last week that it did. (The NFL's statement last week: "Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it.")
Perhaps the league has other evidence. But to me, and I would think most people, Hargrove's admission that he was instructed to deny the existence of a bounty program is not the same as acknowledging he either knew about it or participated. It isn't even enough to say that Hargrove lied. He followed instructions to deny knowledge. If that's the only evidence the league has on Hargrove, then an appeal initiated Monday might have some merit.
Again, as we discussed last week, Hargrove must own the original words he spoke to investigators. But this declaration provides some context for why he said what he said.
It might be easy for us to say in a vacuum that we would tell the full truth at all times, but this was a player who was still in the process of convincing the league he was employable. He was being offered a promotion by one of the few teams that originally expressed interest. It's dirty stuff. This entire episode -- the bounty program and the NFL's investigation -- gets murkier with every layer peeled away. What's next?