NFC South: 2012 NFL Owners Meetings

On the road

March, 28, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The NFL owners meetings are over, but the saga of the New Orleans Saints is not.

We still don’t know if coach Sean Payton will appeal his suspension, which is scheduled to start next week. We still don’t know who the Saints will put in Payton’s place if the suspension takes hold and we probably won’t know until next week at the earliest if the NFL will be disciplining players who were involved in the bounty program.

The owners and coaches seem to have cleared out of here. I’m going to get on the road and head back toward NFC South Blog headquarters. Keep an eye on the headlines section of our main NFL page for any news developments. If anything major happens, I’ll pull over and weigh in.

And, of course, I’ll be watching out for any signs of Payton or Bill Parcells as I make my way out of South Florida.

Roger Goodell's wrap-up on Saints

March, 28, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell just wrapped up the owners meetings with a media session that included a few questions on the New Orleans Saints and their punishments for running a bounty program.

There were no new developments, but Goodell touched on several aspects of the situation. Although he has announced suspensions for coach Sean Payton (one year) and general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games), Goodell said he doesn’t have an issue with the fact they appear to be the ones deciding who will fill in for Payton as coach.

“No, again, ultimately the owner is the one who is going to have to make the final decision,’’ Goodell said. “They’re suspended of operations during that period of time, but they’re going to have to make decisions on how the Saints are going to be operated either as a group or however Tom Benson wants to do that.’’

Goodell also said he was aware of the fact the suspensions (as well as a $500,000 fine and the loss of second-round draft picks this year and next) have made him hugely unpopular with New Orleans fans.

“Listen, I understand the frustration of the Saints fans and I have great respect for them,’’ Goodell said. “We’ll be there with our Super Bowl at the conclusion of this coming season. I worked very closely as we were getting the Saints re-established after the Super Bowl, so I saw firsthand the Saints’ passion and their fans’ passion. And I think I clearly understand that frustration. But everyone has to understand there are 32 teams and everybody is going to have to operate by the rules. If we don’t do that, the integrity of the game and what fans love about the game will be impacted negatively and that’s my responsibility.’’

The one thing that still hasn’t been addressed is possible discipline for players who were involved in the bounty system. The NFL has said 22 to 27 players were involved over a three-year period. Goodell said he still isn’t ready to make any announcements on possible suspensions or fines for players.

“We certainly are going to proceed as quickly as possible,’’ Goodell said. “I’ve mentioned to you that I’ve spoken to several dozen players. We have additional people we need to speak to. The most important issue is I need to speak to the NFLPA, which I expect to do before the end of the week. I hope that they will be in a position at that point in time that I can consider.’’

Goodell also was asked if the penalties for players might be as severe as they were for Payton or Loomis. He didn’t give a definitive answer.

“I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard,’’ Goodell said. “That’s an important element of what the NFL is all about. It is clear from the information though that players enthusiastically embraced this and pushed this and that’s troubling to me. We’ll have to look into who was involved, how much they were involved, what influence they had and I’ll do my best to make a judgment on how that should be handled from a discipline standpoint. As far as going forward, we’ve made it clear and this is what I’d like to hear from the NFLPA and this is my exact question is “How do we eliminate this from the game?’’ And we do need the players’ cooperation to eliminate it from the game. They’re a big part of this and if they feel this is important to the game, we need to find solutions for them.’’

Bucs announce moves

March, 28, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just announced two transactions.

The first is no big surprise. We told you last week that cornerback Ronde Barber had agreed to terms on a one-year deal that would bring him back to the Buccaneers for a 16th season. That deal now officially has been signed, the team said.

The Bucs also announced that reserve offensive lineman DeMar Dotson has agreed to a two-year contract. Dotson had been tendered as a restricted free agent.

Dotson’s signing enhances the depth on a Tampa Bay offensive line that has a chance to be very good. Dotson, who appeared in 13 games last season and started two, is viewed as a young player with high upside. He and the recently-signed Jamon Meredith likely will be the two backups behind starters Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood at tackle.

After adding guard Carl Nicks in free agency, the Bucs appear loaded in the middle of the line. Nicks and Davin Joseph will be the starting guards and Jeremy Zuttah, who has played both center and guard, will become the full-time starter at center.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although his franchise quarterback, Cam Newton, was one of four players named as specific targets in the Saints’ bounty program, Carolina coach Ron Rivera doesn’t anticipate further problems with the Panthers and Saints.

“I'd be surprised if there's any retribution, I really would,’’ Rivera said during a breakfast for NFC coaches Wednesday morning at the owners meetings.

The NFL report announcing the Saints’ punishment, listed Newton and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers as well as retired quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner as players that specifically were targeted for injury. As NFC South opponents, the Saints and Panthers play each other twice a season.

“When we play them it's not going to be about that,’’ Rivera said. “It's going to be us playing them trying to win our division. And that's what it should be. It should be about the game, and not what happened.’’

That’s a good message, and I’m sure Rivera will share it with his team before playing the Saints next season. Rivera’s a coach that is respected by his players and his words could keep things from getting out of hand on the field. But NFL players are intense competitors and I’m sure at least some of the Panthers will have added motivation against the Saints because they know that team was trying to injure their quarterback.

Rivera also weighed in on another issue related to the Saints’ bounty program. Former New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey was accused by former NFL defensive lineman and current television analyst Warren Sapp of being “the snitch’’ that started the investigation into the bounty program. Shockey, who played for Carolina last season and currently is a free agent, has issued strong denials.

“If you know Jeremy Shockey, you know that's not Jeremy Shockey,’’ Rivera said. “I know there was an insinuation that he had been the guy. But that's not Jeremy's makeup. That's not who Jeremy Shockey is. Jeremy Shockey's a guy that, if there was something going on, that's their business. I would be surprised, I really would. It wouldn't hurt him in my eyes either way because first of all I think Jeremy Shockey's a tremendous person. I think he's also a very good football person -- a football personality who understands this game.’’

No Sean Payton at breakfast

March, 28, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Just a real quick note on the New Orleans Saints from the NFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings.

The Saints weren’t represented. There were tables with team-logoed signs and the name of the coach for the other 15 NFC coaches. There was no table for the Saints. As best as I could tell, all 15 other NFC coaches showed up.

Sean Payton did not. That’s not a surprise at all. Payton addressed the media about his punishment for the Saints’ bounty program on Tuesday.

At that time, Payton said he was planning on spending only one day at the owners meetings. He said he’s more focused on trying to get things in order before his one-year suspension begins April 1, although Payton also said he still is considering the possibility of appealing the punishment.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell previously said April 2 is the deadline for Payton to appeal. If Payton does appeal, Goodell said he would wait on starting the suspension. But Goodell also said a decision on the appeal would come very quickly.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Tampa Bay’s new head coach Greg Schiano spent the last hour speaking with the media. He was insightful, entertaining and even humorous at times. He didn’t reveal any earth-shattering news, but there was one message that came through loud and clear and running back LeGarrette Blount better be listening.

At two different times, Schiano was asked about Blount. Both times, Schiano gave a similar answer. He first complimented Blount and, then, sent a strong message.

“I think LeGarrette has tons of ability,’’ Schiano said. “No one who touches the football will get touches if they don’t protect the football. That is one of our core covenants -- the ball. It’s so important they named the game after it. We make a big deal about it.’’

Schiano’s had time to review film of last year’s Bucs and it’s obvious one thing stood out to him about Tampa Bay’s top running back last season. Blount fumbled five times and lost three of them. Those fumbles came at critical times and it’s important to note that not a single one came during Tampa Bay’s 4-2 start. They all came during a 10-game losing streak to finish the season that cost Raheem Morris his job.

In fact, you can trace Tampa Bay’s collapse straight to Blount’s fumbles. The Bucs were on a five-game losing streak, but still playing most opponents closely. Then, they went to Tennessee on Nov. 27 and played well enough to win. They didn’t. They lost 23-17, mainly because Blount lost two fumbles.

After that, the Bucs weren’t even competitive.

Schiano likes to say everyone is getting a fresh start with him. That may be true, but the new coach obviously already has formed an opinion of Blount and he didn’t even talk about how Tampa Bay’s previous staff felt the need to use other running backs in passing situations.

I’m not saying Schiano’s going to go out and draft Alabama’s Trent Richardson with the No. 5 overall pick. But that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Schiano talked about how Ray Rice turned around his program at Rutgers. He also talked about how he likes to have a “bell-cow’’ back.

When asked if Richardson is a “bell-cow’’ back, Schiano said: “He could be. He’s done it in what is arguably the toughest league in college football.’’

The Bucs very well could draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne in the first round and that move would make lots of sense. Blount’s going to be on the roster, but there’s no doubt the Bucs will add a running back or two at some point in the draft or later in free agency.

Blount may get an opportunity to still be the main runner. But it’s apparent he’ll only stay in that role -- or get on the field -- if he shows he’s solved his fumbling problems.

Visiting with NFC coaches

March, 28, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- I’m about to head out to the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings.

The way things usually work are there are 16 tables with 16 coaches. Local writers generally stay with the coach they cover and national writers tend to bounce from table to table. In past years, I’ve tried to spend a little time listening to each of the four NFC South coaches.

But this isn’t anything close to a normal year, so I’m going to play a read-and-react scheme. We’ll see if New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton shows up or if Bill Parcells or someone else is in his chair. I’m guessing the New Orleans table will be empty or simply won’t be there. Payton addressed the Saints' bounty program Tuesday and said he was only staying for a day. If there’s nothing to cover with the Saints, then that narrows things.

I’ve also already spent a good chunk of time with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith and gathered lots of nuggets, some I’ve already shared with you and some more that will be spread out over the coming days. I still may stop by and chat with Smith a bit, but there’s not much ground left to cover with him.

That leaves Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. I’ll probably split the bulk of my time between those two. I’ll share some quick notes with you Wednesday and also gather some stuff to use during the little bit of a lull that comes between the end of the owners meeting and the time when things really heat up before the draft.

Speaking of the end of the owners meeting, it’s supposed to wrap up early Wednesday afternoon. I’ll be back with some stuff from the coaches. Then, I’ll hit the wrap-up news conference with commissioner Roger Goodell. Right after that, I’ll head right into the media room and stay out of the hallway because things tend to get a little crazy as owners, coaches and league and team executives rush off to catch their flights home. Since I’ll be driving home, I’ll write for a while and let them all get out of the way.

Bucs seeing spark at box office

March, 27, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We’ll find out in the fall if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ signings of free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright will help the team on the field. But that trio already has made an impact at the box office.

That’s significant for a team that’s struggled to sell tickets in recent years. Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting the team has seen an increase in ticket sales since the free-agency splash.

“Definitely,’’ Glazer said. “First of all, our season-ticket holders from last year, we’ve seen the enthusiasm through the renewals. In new sales, we’ve had a great response. You just sense it in the community. There’s an excitement and a connection going on and a re-engagement that maybe hasn’t been there the last couple of years. We’re going to build on that in a lot of different areas to get our fans more engaged.’’

That should be nothing but good news for a team that has sold out only two home games in the past two seasons. Glazer wouldn’t go into specifics about the team’s season-ticket base and he wasn’t ready to say local television blackouts of home games will permanently end just yet.

“That’s our goal,’’ Glazer said. “That’s extremely important to us, but we have work to do there. We’re rolling up our sleeves. For the fourth year in a row, we’ve lowered our ticket prices. We’ve created ticket pricing for all fans and it’s very important for us to be accessible to all fans.’’

But committing more than $140 million to the three free-agents wasn’t a move designed to be a publicity stunt to create traffic at the box office. It’s part of a much larger plan.

“People question why this didn’t happen two or three years ago,’’ Glazer said. “Well, when we settled on this plan a few years ago, the plan was draft, develop and, at the appropriate time, add veterans. To bring in veterans early on to us just puts you on the wrong path. This was the appropriate time. Not only was it the appropriate time, you had some unique players out there, the kind of players that we could add that could add something to our football team and in the locker room. I think the complement was fantastic, the timing was as we always expected. We’re excited. It’s energized our fans. It’s energized our organization.’’

We’ve talked about the Bucs’ plan here many times in recent years. There’s a misconception by some out there that ownership simply was cheap for a few years and made a huge shift in organizational philosophy this offseason. That’s not at all true. The Glazers and general manager Mark Dominik simply are following a plan that has a proven history of success in the modern NFL.

That’s to build through the draft, keep your key players and add appropriate free agents at the right time. In the NFC South alone, I’ve seen similar plans work in Atlanta and Carolina, to varying degrees and at different times (the Saints have had success with a plan that involves the draft, but also relies a good deal on free agency). I’ve seen similar plans work elsewhere in the league – think New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, who have won recent Super Bowl teams.

Then, I think about the teams that have spent tons in free agency in recent years. Dallas and Washington haven’t accomplished all that much in recent years. Philadelphia’s “Dream Team’’ turned into a bit of a nightmare last year.

I think the Bucs are on the right path. These things don’t happen overnight. But if the Bucs stay on the path they’re on, they’ll get back to a point where Raymond James Stadium isn’t filled with empty seats on Sundays.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although there is no lockout this year, the three younger starting quarterbacks in the NFC South are facing some unique offseason hurdles.

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said Monday at the owners meetings he wishes quarterback Matt Ryan already was working with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Prior to the lockout, offseason programs used to start in mid-March. But the collective-bargaining agreement signed last summer changed the rules for offseason programs.

Ryan and the Falcons can’t start their offseason program until April 16. It’s the same for the Carolina Panthers and second-year quarterback Cam Newton. At least Newton will be playing in the same offense he was in last season with coordinator Rob Chudzinski. But Newton had no offseason program last season and will face a shorter one than teams had in the past.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman catches a bit of a break because league rules allow teams with new coaches to start their offseason programs two weeks earlier than other teams. The Bucs have a new coach in Greg Schiano and Freeman will have to quickly digest a new offense with coordinator Mike Sullivan.

Although the New Orleans Saints face an uncertain future with coach Sean Payton scheduled to begin a suspension April 1, they should have an advantage in this area. They’ve got a veteran quarterback in Drew Brees, assuming he signs his franchise tender or agrees to a new contract before the offseason program starts. Payton built one of the league’s most prolific offenses and Brees has mastered it. No matter who is acting as head coach of the Saints, the offensive system isn't likely to change at all and the shortened offseason shouldn’t present as much of a challenge as it does for Ryan, Freeman and Newton.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time since the story of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program broke, we’ve got an NFC South owner commenting publicly on the situation.

It’s not New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. It’s Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. During a break in the owners meeting, Blank was asked for his reaction to the heavy punishments given to the Saints. Blank stood firmly behind NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decisions.

“I think the league has handled it well and appropriately,’’ Blank said. “One of the other owners made this point, but I told the commissioner I totally agree with him, the NFL, outside of our stadiums, the only things we really own are our reputation, our integrity, our shield and the relationship and trust we have with our fans and our sponsors. Anything that’s done that violates that or hurts that, is something that has to be dealt with. My view is that everything the commissioner has stood for since 2006, which has to do with the shield, the trust, the fans and player safety, etc. really that goes completely in the opposite direction based on the New Orleans experience.

“I think he dealt with it appropriately. I think it will be one of the most significant decisions he’ll ever make as the commissioner. I think he’ll be the commissioner for the next 30 years and I think people will look back and say he sent a message to the teams, the players, the coaches, everybody in the NFL and sent a message to the fans that 'This is not what we’re going to have in this league.' I think it was appropriate. Obviously, it’s going to be a hard hit on the Saints, but they’ll recover and time will move on and it will be fine.’’

I asked Blank if he was angered when he saw the details the NFL released from its investigation on how specific players were targeted for bounties. Blank’s team plays the Saints twice each season and the owner has millions of dollars invested in quarterback Matt Ryan and other players.

“I mean, Matt wasn’t one of the players named,’’ Blank said. “But, on the other hand, I’d be hard put to believe that he wasn’t a target at some point, whether he was named or not.

“There’s just not place for that in the game. It’s a tough game and you’re supposed to be physical, etc. but there’s a line there. It’s not even a fine line. It’s a bright line that you just can’t cross.’’

A different side of Sean Payton

March, 27, 2012

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There was none of the often-talked-about arrogance as Sean Payton stood in the lobby of The Breakers early Tuesday morning. Instead, the soon-to-be-deposed coach/king of the New Orleans Saints came across as humble, contrite and never pointed a finger at anyone but himself.

Barring an appeal that would have to come soon, an interim coach will be running the Saints in 2012. But Payton made it clear he’s still acting as the coach of the Saints, and he even gave a pep talk to his team at a time when players are scattered around the country, enjoying their offseason.

Perhaps the most important bit of all was that Payton said that Saints fans, who have been very vocal in claiming Payton’s one-year suspension is too harsh and that he’s being singled out for a practice they believe is common around the league, shouldn’t feel sorry for the coach.

“No, I accept this," Payton said. “I’ve heard that argument. I think trying to really look closely at how we and how I can improve is probably a better way for me to handle this than to kind of vent or to look outwardly at other programs and I’ve tried to take that approach."

[+] EnlargeSaints coach Sean Payton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSean Payton said Tuesday he will decide in two or three days whether or not to appeal his suspension.
That’s a strong departure from a coach who, since joining the Saints in 2006, often has come across like he’s above everyone. Remember the story (the same one Payton wrote about in his own book) when he told one of his media relations workers to ask the league how much the fine was for missing the news conference the morning after he won the only Super Bowl in franchise history? Payton grudgingly showed up only after the NFL strongly informed the highest powers of the Saints that wasn’t even an option because no other winning coach ever had skipped the morning-after news conference. Remember the guy who scoffed at accusations he was running up the score last season so he could pad the stats of quarterback Drew Brees and other offensive players?

That guy was nowhere to be found Tuesday morning. Instead, Payton was a guy taking blame for something that went horribly wrong on his watch.

There were a few specifics that he wouldn’t comment on, but his overall theme was one of sorrow. That came through repeatedly as he faced numerous questions (far tougher questions than the ones he often would scoff at or not answer when he faced the local media after practice sessions) about a three-year bounty program that got Payton and the Saints in deep trouble with the NFL. In addition to Payton’s suspension, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also suspended general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of this season, suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games of the season, fined the franchise $500,000 and stripped away the team’s second-round draft picks this year and next. Goodell also suspended former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely.

Payton said he hasn’t talked to Williams, who left for the St. Louis Rams right after the season, in the past several weeks. Williams often has been portrayed as the ringleader of the bounty program, including in the detailed report by the league. But there were no shots directed at Williams, who would have been an easy target as a rogue assistant. There were no shots directed at Goodell. Despite mentioning he still is considering an appeal, Payton mentioned the respect he has for Goodell’s office and authority. Payton simply pointed the finger at himself.

“You’re disappointed; you’re disappointed in yourself," Payton said.

Payton said he, Loomis and owner Tom Benson will spend the next few days plotting a course of action. He’s composing a long-term plan to hand off to whoever ends up coaching his team. He’s also working with Loomis and Benson on another crucial short-term project. Payton is taking an active role in deciding who will coach the Saints. He confirmed reports that he’s had some conversations with retired coach Bill Parcells, although he said the topic of Parcells taking his place hasn’t been discussed in great depth. However, he implied that could change shortly. Payton said he, Loomis and Benson will meet with Parcells very shortly. Parcells lives right up the road, a little less than an hour’s drive in Jupiter, Fla.

Payton also mentioned that some of his current assistants (perhaps offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer) remain options.

“One of the things we’ve got is a good group of coaches and we’ve got a great locker room,’’ Payton said. “I think the type of players we have, the character we have within the framework of the program, they’ll get through this. This will be a challenge for them. But I think it’s something that we’re kind of used to handling. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity and we’ve won a lot of games in really a short window of time. I know our players, our leaders within the locker room and on the coaching staff will look at this as a challenge and also a little bit as an opportunity.’’

This is where it sounded like Payton was still a coach. He sounded like he was giving a pregame or halftime speech to his team, one of the things he does best. Even as he prepares to disappear for a year, he rallied his troops.

“I think the hardest thing is that this would possibly put a taint or tarnish the success we’ve had and I think our players feel that same way,’’ Payton said. “We’ve won 41 games in the last three years. That’s hard to do. And that’s done through hard work. It’s done through discipline. It’s done through execution. It’s done through having good football players that are very coachable. So when we found ourselves maybe in a two-game losing streak or relocated because of a hurricane or we found ourselves kind of going through some tough times, we’ve always responded well. So this is uniquely different, but I do think our players and coaches will take that same response. That starts with our captains, guys that have been in our program for the whole six years that we’ve been together.’’

Payton said he has no doubt he’ll return to coach the Saints after he is reinstated. But it’s obvious Payton is still putting his stamp all over the Saints. They’ll have to carry on without him for a season, but it sounds like things will be conducted as business as usual.

After that? Payton will be back. He might even be slightly humbled and end up as a slightly different -- perhaps better -- coach and person after the whole experience.

Saints coach Sean Payton speaks

March, 27, 2012
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who is scheduled to begin a one-year suspension April 1, just met with the media at the NFL owners meetings.

In an 18-minute interview, Payton talked about a variety of topics related to the Saints’ bounty program and the subsequent punishments. The quick summary of highlights is that Payton confirmed reports he will meet with retired coach Bill Parcells at some point this week in Florida. He also said some of his current assistants are candidates to replace him and he hasn’t made a final decision on if he plans to appeal the suspension.

Payton can make the appeal before April 2.

Colleague John Clayton is writing the news story for our main NFL page. I’ll be back here shortly with an analysis of what Payton had to say.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Here’s the latest on the saga of the New Orleans Saints.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that New Orleans coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are scheduled to meet with retired coach Bill Parcells on Tuesday in Florida about Parcells taking over for Payton while he serves a one-year suspension that is scheduled to begin April 1. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen first reported Monday that Payton had broached the subject with Parcells.

The Saints have said Payton will meet with the media Tuesday morning. I’m about to run over to where he’s supposed to be in just a few minutes. I’ll be back with whatever Payton has to say.

But the more I think about this Parcells thing, the more I believe it makes sense for the Saints. They can keep offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in their current places and let Parcells oversee everything. Payton worked as an assistant to Parcells in Dallas. Payton has said many times that he views Parcells as a mentor and a father figure.

Parcells might present a better option for the full season instead of elevating one of the current assistant coaches.

The best summary of the Parcells situation I can think of is that it’s kind of like Payton just found out he’s got to go on a long business trip. Instead of turning his children over to a teenage babysitter who can do a nice job in short-term situations, he’s thinking more of the long haul and asking someone he thinks of as a father to come in and take care of the kids for a year.

Again, I’ll be back as soon as possible with whatever Payton has to say, so stay tuned.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell already has announced suspensions for coach Sean Payton (one year) and general manager Mickey Loomis (the first eight games of the 2012 season) for their roles in the Saints’ bounty program.

He also has fined the Saints $500,000, taken away second-round draft picks this year and in 2013, and suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games of next season.

But what about the 22 to 27 former players allegedly involved in the bounty program that lasted three seasons? The league has said suspensions and fines are possible punishments for the players. Some of the players involved remain with the Saints, but others have moved on to other teams or are out of the NFL. Goodell said disciplinary actions for the players will come soon, but he wouldn’t set a timetable.

“I would like to do it as soon as reasonable,’’ Goodell said.

Goodell said he wants to talk with leaders of the NFL Players Association before issuing any official discipline for players. Goodell said he expects to talk to union leader DeMaurice Smith before the end of the week.

When asked if he would consider staggering suspensions if multiple Saints players were impacted, Goodell indicated it was too early to say.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Last week, we told you about the Twitter war in which retired NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp accused former New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey of being “the snitch’’ that started the NFL’s investigation into the Saints’ bounty program.

Sapp also made the same allegation on NFL Network. Shockey repeatedly has denied that.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the situation Monday night.

“I think I would say to NFL Network staff as well as anyone else, you better be sure of your information before you report it,’’ Goodell said.

Goodell also added: “I didn’t see (Sapp’s) comment. But he’s inaccurate. I’ll stop at that.’’

Goodell was grilled with several questions about who might have talked to the league.

“First off, you’re assuming it was a player?’’ Goodell said. “We had several sources on this. We’re not disclosing our sources.’’