Appeals heard, what's next for Saints?

The New Orleans Saints have finished appealing their punishments for their bounty program.

Coach Sean Payton appealed his one-year suspension. General manager Mickey Loomis appealed his eight-game suspension. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt appealed his six-game suspension. The Saints also appealed their $500,000 fine and their loss of two draft picks. The only person who has been given a punishment who didn’t appeal was former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He left the Saints for the St. Louis Rams and has been suspended indefinitely.

So what comes next after the appeals?

Well, that’s mostly up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s the man who first issued the punishments and he’s the man who heard the appeals.

We don’t know exactly what Payton, Loomis and Vitt had to say in their hearings with Goodell. Payton and Loomis didn’t address the media after their hearings. Vitt spoke briefly with the media as he exited the NFL office and his lawyer David Cornwell portrayed Williams as a “rogue coach," who Cornwell said defied orders from Payton and Loomis to stop the bounty program.

Whatever was said behind closed doors, I expect Goodell to make a decision on the appeals pretty quickly. But it remains unclear if the NFL previously was aware of the tapes of Williams speaking to the defense the night before last season’s playoff game with San Francisco that became public Thursday. If the league wasn’t aware of the tapes, it could stall things a bit.

There has been media speculation Goodell could announce a decision as soon as Friday. That’s possible, but I could also see this lingering into next week because of the holiday weekend.

If Goodell upholds the suspensions, Payton’s would start immediately. Loomis and Vitt aren’t scheduled to start their suspensions until the start of the regular season. If Payton is suspended, I’d expect the Saints to act quickly to put someone in his place. It could be retired coach Bill Parcells, perhaps someone else from the outside or from Payton’s current staff (offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer seem to be the most likely candidates).

The Saints are scheduled to start their offseason program April 16 and, if Payton is out, they likely would want to have his replacement in place by then.

But the appeals aren’t the only issues hanging out there. The NFL has said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program. The league has said the players could face fines and suspensions. Goodell recently met with leaders from the NFL Players Association, but hasn’t offered any firm timeline for when he will announce any possible player punishments.

Oh, there’s one other pretty major thing the Saints need to do soon. They’ve got an unhappy quarterback, Drew Brees, who has been hit with the franchise tag. It might be nice to have Brees signed to a long-term deal quickly. That would assure Brees will show up for the offseason program.

That would be hugely important. If Payton is suspended, the Saints are going to need Brees’ leadership skills more than ever.