NFC South: Brett Favre

Only fans innocent in Saints' scandal

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
6:33
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I know there are a lot of New Orleans Saints fans out there celebrating the fact that the player suspensions in the bounty saga have been vacated.

That’s good for the fans because they’re the innocent ones in all this. And innocence is an important item to keep in mind in all of this.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, acting as an appeals officer, set the suspensions aside. But he most certainly did not say the players were innocent.

In fact, Tagliabue firmly said that he agreed with current commissioner Roger Goodell’s finding that the Saints ran a three-year bounty program and that linebacker Jonathan Vilma placed a bounty was placed on former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre.

By dropping the suspensions, Tagliabue might have been doing Goodell a favor. Who would have thought months ago that a defamation suit by Vilma against Goodell still would be lingering? Defamation suits by public figures usually get tossed out of court pretty quickly.

But this one was hanging out there and, with it, so was the possibility of Goodell being brought into a deposition. The rules are broad in scope and Vilma’s attorneys could have asked Goodell about almost anything (concussions, how much money owners make, etc.).

Vilma’s attorney said the suit will continue, but I think the chances of it getting tossed out or dropped went up greatly when Tagliabue made his ruling.

But Tagliabue’s ruling in no way says the Saints were doing the right thing. It just shifted the blame even more toward coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Someone has to take the blame here and maybe Payton, Vitt, Loomis and Williams deserve it more than the players.

As I wrote back in March, the Saints are viewed by a lot of people around the league as being arrogant. A lot of people think the Saints make their own rules. I think Tagliabue's ruling only enhances the idea of a culture of arrogance within the Saints, especially the people inn the highest positions.

They broke rules repeatedly. When the league first started asking about a bounty program three years ago, the Saints denied that was happening. They kept denying it and that’s why no one has been exonerated.

The players won’t face suspensions. But Vitt already served a six-game suspension and Loomis served an eight-game suspension. Payton is suspended for the entire season and Williams is banned indefinitely.

There was wrong doing in New Orleans. The league just shifted the blame for that away from the players and toward the people at the top of the organizational flow chart.
I just finished reading the entire order by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue that vacated player suspensions in the New Orleans Saints bounty matter.

Tagliabue’s ruling is very lengthy (22 pages), so if you don’t have time to read it all, let me summarize it and provide some highlights.

First off, Tagliabue makes it abundantly clear on repeated occasions that he found current commissioner Roger Goodell’s findings that the Saints ran a three-year bounty program to be accurate. Tagliabue said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove engaged in conduct detrimental to the game, although he ruled that former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita did not take part in detrimental conduct.

Tagliabue criticized the behavior of New Orleans players that took part in the bounty program, but, as I read the ruling, it became very clear that he’s shifting most of the blame to coaches and the front office.

The biggest theme I saw as I went through the document was Tagliabue pointing to the behavior of coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and general manager Mickey Loomis as being way out of bounds.

Below are some excerpts where Tagliabue addresses that theme:
  • “The Program eventually led to allegations of a bounty being placed on (former Minnesota quarterback Brett) Favre. Making matters far more serious -- as well as challenging for Commissioner Goodell and League investigators -- Saints’ coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL’s investigation into the Program and the alleged bounty.’’
  • “These suspensions thus deprived the Saints of vitally important coaching and leadership talent, and they represented a severe competitive penalty for the Saints’ team, its fans and indirectly for the New Orleans / Gulf Coast region. Commissioner Goodell’s findings and the resulting suspensions of these Saints’ personnel are final and no longer subject to appeal.’’
  • “There is evidence in the record that suggests that Commissioner Goodell could have disciplined a greater number of Saints’ players for the events that occurred here. This sad chapter in the otherwise praiseworthy history of the New Orleans Saints casts no executive, coach or player in a favorable light.
  • “It is important to note that Commissioner Goodell has been forced to address the issues of misconduct by some individuals in the Saints’ organization since early 2010 to the present. Due to the indefensible obstruction of justice by Saints’ personnel, which included admitted efforts of coaches to mislead or otherwise deny the existence of a bounty or the Program, a disciplinary process that should have taken weeks is verging on three years."
  • “Vitt admitted to NFL investigators in 2012 that he “fabricated the truth” when he spoke to an NFL investigator in March 2010 about whether there had been a bounty on Favre. He later claimed that his admitted fabrication was just “stretching the truth” because he failed to describe for investigators the emotionalism of the defensive team meeting the night before the NFC Championship Game."
  • “There is no question that Coach Williams and other coaches orchestrated the Program to incentivize cart-offs and knockouts; carefully choreographed defensive team meetings, including presenting graphic slide presentations showing injuries to opposing players; ensured that any player who would speak at team meetings was adequately prepared or supported; and generally created an atmosphere in the 2009 season and playoffs that suggested to Saints’ players that offering a $10,000 bounty to injure an opposing player was permissible behavior."

NFL walks away from Saints fight

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
2:40
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Jonathan VilmaDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma and other players implicated in the Saints bounty scandal have had their penalties overturned by Paul Tagliabue.
Let me get this straight.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has found that current commissioner Roger Goodell was spot on in his finding of facts in the New Orleans Saints bounty saga? But Tagliabue has vacated all player discipline?

That’s more than a little contradictory. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

Tagliabue is agreeing with Goodell that the Saints ran a bounty program for three years, but Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita no longer are facing suspensions.

Heck, they probably won't even face fines, unless Goodell oversteps Tagliabue -- but I think Goodell is planning on staying in his own lane now.

“My affirmation of commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines,’’ Tagliabue said in part of his statement. “However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization.’’

Sounds to me like Tagliabue and the NFL are taking the easy way out of this one. They’re pointing their fingers squarely at coach Sean Payton, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.

There’s one huge difference between the coaches and general manager and the four players: The players are represented by the NFL Players Association, which challenged every step of the process, even though you could make a case that the union was siding with the best interest of four players over the safety of hundreds of others.

The NFLPA appealed every decision, and it ultimately won. Vilma doesn’t have to face a season-long suspension. Smith doesn’t have to miss eight games. Hargrove, who is currently out of the league, doesn’t face a seven-game suspension. Fujita, who might have suffered a career-ending injury this season, doesn’t face a one-game suspension.

The league still is saying the players did what the league alleged from the start, and Tagliabue’s statement reiterates that he found convincing evidence that there was a bounty on Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game of the 2009 season.

But the players aren’t getting suspended, they’re not losing paychecks and they’re not getting fined. They’re getting off pretty much free, except for whatever damage was done to their reputations by this whole sordid saga.

That damage was significant, and we might not have heard the last of it on that front. Vilma still has a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. If I’m Vilma, I’m not dropping that lawsuit.

Vilma has shown that you can take on what was supposed to be an almighty commissioner and win. It’s hard to win a defamation lawsuit because you have to prove intent to put out statements you knew were untrue, but Vilma is on a roll, so why not continue pursuing it?

Vilma’s attorney, Peter R. Ginsberg, already has said the defamation suit isn’t going away.

“We are obviously relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension,’’ Ginsberg said in a statement. “On the other hand, commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.’’

Maybe Vilma can get the NFL to keep backtracking and say there was no bounty on Favre, because it sure looks like the league doesn’t want to fight anymore.

Apparently, the league’s approach now is to just blame it all on Loomis, who already has served an eight-game suspension, and Vitt, who already has served a six-game suspension. And put even more blame on Payton, who is serving a season-long suspension, and Williams, who is banned indefinitely.

Those four are the easy targets because they exhausted their appeals long ago. The only option they had was to appeal their decision to one judge. That was Goodell, back in the spring, and he upheld his own punishments and the clock on those suspensions started ticking.

But the hands of the clock on player punishments were tied up by constant appeals and Vilma’s lawsuit.

Makes you wonder whether Payton, Loomis, Vitt and Williams might have taken a different tack if they knew in the spring what they know now.

There’s no absolute vindication for anyone because Tagliabue and the league still are saying the Saints ran a bounty program.

But one group of the alleged culprits is walking away without any punishment, and the other already has served or is serving its punishment.

That’s because the players fought it and, in the end, Tagliabue grabbed the NFL by its shoulders and pulled the league out of the fight.

NFC South afternoon update

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
4:19
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It’s been a fairly quiet day in the NFC South with the Falcons taking an extra day off after a Thursday night game, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano saying the team still is awaiting test results on an injury to kick returner LeQuan Lewis and New Orleans interim coach Joe Vitt spending part of the day away from his team to testify in the bounty appeals.

Let’s take a quick look at some other odds and ends from around the division:
  • An official at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport said the employee suspected of throwing eggs at the New Orleans Saints’ team bus last week has quit the job. No charges have been filed against the suspected egg-thrower.
  • Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he’ll continue to go with young players. Give him some credit for that. Rivera’s job security is on the line and a lot of coaches in that situation would play it conservatively and stick with veterans.
  • Former Minnesota coach Brad Childress was among those testifying in the bounty appeals hearings in New Orleans on Monday. The NFL previously had said Childress told officials he heard from one of his players the Saints had a bounty on quarterback Brett Favre. That player has said he was not aware of any bounty program.
  • There weren’t a lot of defensive bright spots for Tampa Bay in Sunday’s loss to Denver. But middle linebacker Mason Foster said the Bucs can learn from Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. That’s not a bad idea.

Statistical superlatives on the Saints

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
11:55
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With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives from the New Orleans Saints’ 38-17 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:
  • The Saints have won five of their last six games after starting the season 0-4.
  • Drew Brees threw for three touchdown passes and extended his NFL record to 53 straight games with a touchdown pass.
  • Brees now has 50 career games with at least three touchdown passes. That puts him fifth in NFL history. Only Brett Favre (72 games), Peyton Manning (70), Dan Marino (62) and Tom Brady (51) have more games in which they’ve thrown three touchdown passes.
  • Brees, who used to play twice a year against the Raiders in his days with the Chargers, has 16 touchdown passes without an interception in his last seven games against Oakland. In two games against Oakland since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees has completed 46 of 57 passes for 539 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Free safety Malcolm Jenkins had an interception and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. It was Jenkins’ first interception since the 2010 season.
  • The Saints stuck with Travaris Cadet as their kick returner even though he fumbled two weeks ago against Philadelphia. He rewarded them with a 75-yard return against the Raiders.
  • The Raiders put up 404 yards of total offense. That might sound like a lot, but that’s the lowest total the New Orleans defense has allowed this season. Throw in Jenkins’ interception and a goal-line stand and you can start to see coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense making some progress.
  • In the next three weeks, the Saints will play three division leaders – the 49ers, Falcons and Giants. Their next five opponents have a combined record of 32-16-1.

Reflecting on Drew Brees' big day

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
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With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s put Drew Brees’ performance on Sunday into perspective.
  • Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-28 victory against the Buccaneers. That gives Brees 16 career games with at least 300 passing yards and four touchdowns. That times him with Dan Marino for the most in NFL history.
  • Brees now has 18 career games in which he has thrown four touchdown passes, which makes him fourth in NFL history. Brett Favre holds the record with 23.
  • Brees also moved into a tie with Favre for third place in history with his 62nd 300-yard passing game. Peyton Manning holds the record (67).
  • Brees had been struggling with play-action passes early in the season. He completed just 42.1 percent of his play-action passes in the first five games and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions. That all changed Sunday. Brees completed all seven of his play-action attempts in the first half against the Bucs. He finished the game completing 90.9 percent of his play-action passes and averaging 15 yards per attempt. Two of Brees’ touchdowns also came off play-action.

Goodell's letter to Jonathan Vilma

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
5:36
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We already shared with you part of a letter from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, explaining the decision to uphold his four-game suspension.

Goodell also decided to uphold the season-long suspension of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, although Vilma will be allowed to keep his weekly checks for six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.

Goodell’s letter to Vilma is much longer than the one he sent to Smith, so I’ll do my best to trim it up and include the most important items.

Here’s some of what Goodell wrote to Vilma:
“You confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a broader program in place among the Saints’ defensive players. You confirmed that these terms referred to plays in which an opposing player has to leave the game for one or more plays. You confirmed that, as (assistant head coach Joe) Vitt testified, an opposing player’s need for smelling salts under a trainer’s care was a consequence of the kind that the program sought to achieve and for which players were offered cash rewards from the incentive pool.’’

Goodell also went into detail and said a bounty system was in place during the playoffs at the end of the 2009 season.
“I also find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by offering a substantial financial incentive to any member of the defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the Saints’ 2009 NFC playoff game against the Vikings.’’

Goodell also wrote that there was credible evidence Vilma made a similar pledge about Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, but said he didn’t need to go into further detail because he already had evidence of one pledge of a reward to hurt an opponent.

Many New Orleans fans have labeled former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely, and former assistant coach Mike Cerullo, as "snitches,'' although maybe they were simply telling the truth. Goodell acknowledged both men provided details of the bounty program and said he found their versions credible.
“I am not persuaded by any suggestion that either Mr. Williams or Mr. Cerullo had an incentive to testify falsely, under penalty of perjury, about such conduct by you or by any other player. With respect to Coach Williams, you and he have repeatedly spoken highly of each other, and nobody has identified any reason why he would make false charges against the Saints or you in particular. In that respect, it is telling that even though he had already left the Saints and signed a contract to be the defensive coordinator for the Rams, coach Williams continued to deny the existence of the program in its entirety, and acknowledged the program and his role in it only after detailed questioning by our investigators. Equally important, neither Mr. Williams nor Mr. Cerullo was made aware of the substance of the information provided by the other in the investigation; as one example, each independently volunteered to investigators that the bounty that you pledged with respect to Mr. Favre was in the specific amount of $10,000.’’

Aside from the statements from Williams and Cerullo, Goodell also said others, including Vitt, former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, talked about a meeting in which things got “out of hand’’ and pledges were made for big plays.
“Those statements support the written declarations, made under penalty of perjury, by Coach Williams and Mr. Cerullo about the events of that evening. In contrast, your statement that nothing out of the ordinary happened and that no pledges were made by anyone at that meeting is inconsistent with the information provided by other players and is simply not persuasive.

“I find, based on all of these facts and the entire record described above, that you did, in fact, pledge money to any teammate who injured or disabled Mr. Favre to an extent that he would not be able to continue playing in the playoff game. I recognize that you and some of your teammates have denied that you made such a pledge or claim not to recall your doing so, but I am persuaded, based on the entirety of the record before me, that you did so. And I find that such a pledge or any similar incentive is conduct detrimental.”

Around the NFC South

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Temporary NFC South Blog headquarters are set up back in the Queen City, where I soon will start looking ahead to Thursday night’s game between the Panthers and Giants.

But, first, let’s take a look at the headlines from around the rest of the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs re-signed receiver Jordan Shipley, who briefly was with the team in the preseason. Consider that an indication that receiver Preston Parker is likely to miss some time with a foot injury. Shipley showed great promise as a slot receiver with the Bengals early in his career. But he suffered a major knee injury and the Bengals released him during the preseason and the Bucs picked him up. Shipley didn’t look like he had re-gained his full speed in the preseason. But, if he can get back to full health, he could provide a nice boost for the receiving corps.

The replacement officials are getting criticized after Monday night’s game between Atlanta and Denver. But Stephen Holder points out some missed calls might have played a role in Tampa Bay’s loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. This whole situation has gotten out of hand and the quality of the game is suffering. The NFL needs to do whatever it takes to get the regular officials back to work as soon as possible.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was at the center of the bounty drama early on, but he had seemed to fade in recent months. That now has changed. Williams has been subpoenaed in the defamation lawsuit by linebacker Jonathan Vilma against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. If that case ever makes it to trial and Williams has to testify, things could get fascinating. Williams and Vilma were very close when they worked together, but Williams reportedly has given the NFL a statement that says Vilma offered a $10,000 bounty for anyone that knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the game in the 2009 postseason.

A day after Vilma met with Goodell in New York, defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove had their meetings with the commissioner. Former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, also was scheduled to attend. But Fujita backed out of his meeting, saying it was more important to stay in Cleveland.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn isn’t happy about losing his starting job to rookie Josh Norman. That’s understandable. Munnerlyn is a competitor and has lots of pride. But he can still turn this situation into a positive. He still is getting plenty of playing time and is only an injury away from starting again. He also is in the final year of his rookie contract. If he stays focused and performs well, he can get a shot at a starting job elsewhere next season.

Tom Sorensen writes that Carolina’s $89 million investment in contracts for running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert is worth every penny. I agree. Quarterback Cam Newton is the franchise and the passing game is very important, but Newton can be much more dangerous with good running backs behind him.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Mark Bradley writes that the Atlanta secondary might have had its finest game since the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota in the 1998 season. That’s a strong statement, but the secondary was very impressive against Denver on Monday night. The Falcons intercepted Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter. Who does that? What’s more impressive is that the Falcons did it without nickel back Christopher Owens, who missed much of the game after suffering a concussion, and were briefly without Asante Samuel, who was shaken up, but returned to the game. Backups Dominique Franks and Robert McClain stepped in and made big contributions.

Former Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, now with Denver, did not have a good homecoming Monday. Part of it was because the Broncos lost and part of it was because Brooking drew boos from the fans. That’s understandable because Brooking taunted the Falcons after he went to play for the Dallas Cowboys and fans remember that -- at least for now. However, somewhere down the road (and it will take a few more years), Brooking, who played high school and college football in Georgia, will end up being remembered as one of the most popular Falcons ever.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove has insisted on multiple occasions that a key piece of evidence against him in the New Orleans Saints bounty issue is a case of mistaken identity. Voice recognition analysis confirmed that Hargrove was not the person who said "Bobby, give me my money," a quote captured on an NFL Films video of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Amazingly, it now appears the league has agreed.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Hargrove and three other suspended players that he is "prepared to assume" Hargrove was not the one speaking. But Goodell went on to claim that the video, which the league introduced during the appeal hearing and in a meeting with reporters, was not a factor in Hargrove's eight-game suspension.

[+] EnlargeFavre
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesCommissioner Roger Goodell says a quote captured on an NFL Films video of the 2009 NFC Championship Game had no bearing on Anthony Hargrove's eight-game suspension.
"The identity of the player who made the statement was immaterial to my decision on your appeals and did not affect the level of discipline imposed on Mr. Hargrove," Goodell wrote in a letter that was attached to legal filings submitted Tuesday. The commissioner said the video nevertheless provides ample evidence of a bounty program, no matter who said the words, and that "members of the Saints defense, including Mr. Hargrove, were well aware" of it.

Wow. The league was wrong, but the inaccuracy doesn't matter? That's convenient.

So once again, we're back to a question we've asked several times: What evidence does the NFL have to justify Hargrove's eight-game suspension? Was Hargrove "very well aware" of a bounty program because he was in a sideline huddle when one player said "give me my money" to another? That's a bit of a leap.

Let's go back to the original accusation the NFL publicized against Hargrove in March. As you might recall, here is what the league wrote:
Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 regular season. 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."

Now let's go through those sentences one-by-one:
  • "Hargrove actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints." If the NFL has evidence of this, it remains private.
  • "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." As we discussed in the spring, this sentence is at best a mischaracterization. In the declaration, Hargrove said only that "I denied all knowledge of a bounty or bounty program." To me, there is a big leap between establishing the existence of and participation in a program when all that happened was a denial of knowledge.
  • "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." In the declaration, Hargrove said former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams told him that "some people" thought he had told Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy about the bounty. Both Hargrove and Kennedy have denied that conversation took place.
  • "Hargrove also actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators." That goes back to Hargrove originally denying all knowledge of any program, something he said Williams and fellow Saints assistant Joe Vitt asked him to do. It requires an assumption that Hargrove knew all of the details of any program that might have existed in order for a denial to be interpreted as "untruthful."

The video evidence was introduced later in the process, but now that the NFL has disregarded it, we're back to the original accusations. So essentially, again, we're left to assume that Hargrove was suspended eight games because he denied existence of a bounty program in 2010 -- even if there is no evidence that he participated in it or was aware of it. Yikes.
There were a few reports last week the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees were close to finalizing a long-term contract.

Brees
To date, there’s been no announcement of a deal, so it appears those reports were premature. I’ve said before that I expect this thing to drag into July.

Colleague Andrew Brandt, who knows much more about contract negotiations than I do, has a similar opinion. In this detailed column about the Brees contract situation, Brandt writes that he expects things to go down to the wire.

“Deadlines spur action, and the deadline in this case, due to tag requirements, is July 16,’’ Brandt wrote. “I expect the deal to be done between July 10-15 with a $20 million APY, between $50 million and $52 million guaranteed and $60 million to $62 million over the first three years.’’

I encourage you to read Brandt’s column. Brandt once negotiated Brett Favre’s contract for the Green Bay Packers. He lays out what he thinks are the likely arguing points being made by New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis and Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, and also points to three recent quarterback contracts that probably are factoring into the negotiations.

Oh, one other reason why I think this drags into July -- Brees and the NFL Players Association have asked for a ruling on whether his current franchise tag counts as his first. Brees also carried the franchise tag when he was in San Diego. But that was long before the new labor agreement was signed last summer. That ruling isn't expected to come until late June. As a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, Brees would be doing other players a favor by getting a ruling on this issue.
Drew Brees and Darren Sharper aren’t teammates anymore, but the former New Orleans safety went to bat for the Saints quarterback in this interview with WWL Radio’s Bobby Hebert.

“It still baffles me every day I wake up and I don’t see, on the bottom line, a new contract for Drew Brees,'' Sharper said. "I’m just confused as to why the guy that has led this organization has not been given a contract extension so he can be on board for years to come. ... You just have never seen this happen to a franchise quarterback and Drew is a franchise quarterback in every sense of the word. Have you ever heard of Tom Brady going through a contract, stalled talks that have taken this long. Peyton Manning? Aaron Rodgers? Philip Rivers? ... None of these guys have ever had to deal with a franchise tag and had to play out the last year of their contract and then go into the offseason.”

Sharper has a point. Brees has done a lot for the Saints and for the New Orleans area. You may see a guy like Manning or Brett Favre getting pushed out near the end of their careers. But Manning ended up with a great deal in Denver after parting ways with the Colts. Favre went on to have productive time with the Jets and Vikings after he and the Packers parted ways. But Brees isn’t at the end of his career. He has at least five more good years left in him and it's not like the Saints are eager to hand his job to Chase Daniel.

At the moment, Brees is in any conversation about the league’s best quarterback. He’s right there with Rodgers and Brady (and Manning, if you want to include him for lifetime achievements) and Brees is a notch or two above Rivers.

Sharper may be right when he says we’ve never seen a quarterback of Brees’ magnitude let his contract run out and have to go through lengthy negotiations in an effort to get a new deal.
An attorney from the private sector who advised the NFL during the Saints bounty investigation disputed linebacker Jonathan Vilma's claim that he did not intend to pay bounties for knocking Kurt Warner and Brett Favre out of playoff games in the 2009 season and the he never set out to intentionally hurt another player.

“The evidence overwhelmingly supported the charges,’’ Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney, said in a conference call with the media Thursday. “I haven’t seen the statement that Mr. Vilma may have issued. He plainly, as were the other players, was invited to participate with counsel in an interview to provide his side of the story if there was a different side of the story. He declined to do that.

“If you look at the press release issued yesterday, plainly the conduct there is quite specific as to bounties being pledged by Mr. Vilma. On two occasions, you know the identities of whom the bounties were placed on, the amount of the bounties and when they were placed. There is very, very strong evidence from multiple independent sources reporting those charges.’’

White also said that defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) said he was told to lie about the bounty program when asked about it in 2010. Hargrove since has signed a declaration admitting the bounty program existed and he took part in it. White was asked if Hargrove disclosed who initially told him to lie to investigators.

“He did, but I don’t think it is appropriate to reveal that,’’ White said.

White went on to repeatedly emphasize how strong the NFL's evidence was. You can read more of what she had to say here.


There have been so many subplots to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program that some significant ones have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Thanks to Jeff Schultz for bringing attention to one of them. In this column, Schultz writes about the role and stance the NFL Players Association has taken and suggests the union change its name to “the Union of People We Feel Like Representing."

He’s got an excellent point. In its statement after the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove were announced, the union said it had “not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program."

That’s a pretty standard line from the NFLPA. Think back to last year’s lockout. How many times did we hear the union say that the NFL would not share information how much each team was making, even though the league repeatedly said the union had been supplied with as much information as possible.

It’s a similar story this time. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has admitted the bounty program took place and there is that damning audiotape of Williams talking to his players the night before last season’s playoff game at San Francisco. The NFL also has said that multiple sources said Vilma offered $10,000 of his own money for bounties on Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The NFL said Smith assisted Williams in establishing and funding the bounty program. The league also said 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 league also said Fujita pledged a significant amount of money to the bounty program.

What more evidence does the union want?

Obviously, the union is prepared to stand by Vilma, Smith, Hargrove and Fujita, who just happens to be a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, as they make their expected appeals. Any union should stand by its members because they pay dues that should bring them support from their union.

But this is where things head to an area that looks to be painted in multiple shades of gray. The NFLPA will try to protect the four suspended members.

That screams out one huge question -- what about the union’s hundreds of other members? They pay dues too and, presumably, that buys them protection as well. Shouldn’t the union be standing by Favre and Warner, who paid dues for years? And shouldn’t the union be protecting Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who the league said were also targets of the bounty program?

By standing so firmly with the suspended players, the union seems to be giving the appearance it doesn’t care about its other members or their safety and welfare. I’m sure the union would dispute that and say it cares about all its members and there’s probably truth in that.

But perception is everything. And the way the union has handled this thing so far sure make it look like it has a serious conflict of interest on its hands.

Maybe the union should step aside on this one. I don't see how you fully can stand up for the rights of your players when one group is trying to hurt another group. The union can pick a side, if it wants. But maybe choosing to not pick a side and staying out of this one is the only way the union can avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended by the NFL earlier Wednesday, issued a statement through his attorney a few minutes ago. Here it is in its entirety:
Vilma
“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL’s decision to suspend me for the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player out of the 2009 Divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game or any other game.

“I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner.

“I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game.’’

Vilma doesn’t quite say it, but it sure sounds to me like he’s planning to appeal the suspension.

Why each player was suspended

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
12:36
PM ET

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.”

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