Say this much about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- he’s consistent.
Goodell was harsh when he issued punishment for the New Orleans Saints organization, coaching staff and front office for roles in a three-year bounty program. Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, assistant head coach Joe Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season and general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the season. The Saints also were fined $500,000 and had to forfeit a second-round draft pick in 2012 and 2013.
When the NFL announced player discipline Wednesday, Goodell was just as harsh. He suspended New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season and Vilma no longer can take part in offseason workouts. New Orleans defensive end Will Smith will be suspended for the first four games. Former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, will be suspended for the first eight games and former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, will be suspended for the first three games.
Smith, Fujita and Hargrove can continue taking part in offseason programs and will start their suspensions just before the regular season.
As it did with the announcement of discipline for the coaches, Loomis and the Saints, the NFL sent out a detailed release about why the players were suspended.
Here is the explanation from the league on what each of the four players did to earn the punishment:
Vilma: “The investigation concluded that while a captain of the defensive unit Vilma assisted Coach Williams in establishing and funding the program. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty -- $10,000 in cash – to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional playoff game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week (played on Jan. 24, 2010). Vilma is eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.’’
Smith: “Smith, a defensive end, assisted Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the program during a period in which he was a captain and leader of the defensive unit. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts' of opposing players.”
Hargrove: “Actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints. 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. The evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target of a large bounty during the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. Hargrove also actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.’’
Fujita: “The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts,' plays during which an opposing player was injured.’’
The league went on to say that all the players are suspended without pay for “detrimental conduct."
“In assessing player discipline,” Goodell said, “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”
The players can appeal the suspensions, but Goodell already is indicating that a defense saying they were just following the orders of coaches will not fly.
“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Goodell said. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”