- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.’’