We've spent some time Thursday discussing the emotional reaction of one NFC North player to audio of former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging players to injure members of the San Francisco 49ers. Now comes what I would consider a trickier topic: Williams' profane insults of the Detroit Lions and reports that he handed out cash envelopes for big plays in the Saints' wild-card playoff victory against the Lions.
That portion of Williams' speech is in the full 12-minute audio that was available early Thursday morning on the web site of filmmaker Sean Pamphilon but has now been disabled. Pro Football Talk got a listen before that, however, and reported that Williams referred to the Lions as "weak-[expletive], phony-[expletive] mother [expletives]." (You can use your imagination there.)
No one likes to be called such names, but I'm not going to get worked up over this one. On a day when we are discussing what is routinely said -- and unsaid -- in NFL locker and meeting rooms, I think we can all agree that portion of Williams' speech is routine. After all, the Saints handed the Lions a convincing 45-28 defeat. To the victors go the spoils, I guess.
As for the cash envelopes, we are left to assume they were rewards for plays such as interceptions (the Saints had two), stuffed runs and third-down breakups. There have been no indications that the Lions felt targeted in that game, either publicly or privately. The Saints were called for three penalties, none of which were personal fouls, and if they tried to hurt any Lions players, they were unsuccessful.
*Update: In a statement on his web site, Pamphilon writes that Williams "did not reward anyone that night for perpetrated violence" during the meeting and speech in question. According to Pamphilon, the largest reward he saw handed out was $200 for a turnover.
To be clear, cash incentives -- also known as non-contract bonus payments -- are outlawed in the NFL because they evade the salary cap. And the league has said it informed the Saints that they had re-opened the bounty/bonus payment investigation the night before the Lions game. But as Lions coach Jim Schwartz said himself last week, there is a big difference between rewarding a game-changing play and incentivizing an injury.
Williams was nothing if not brazen to have continued it despite that warning. But while the audio indicates he broke NFL rules against the Lions, we have no evidence that he targeted any of their players for injury.
Regardless, this story has now ensnared three NFC North teams at different levels. Players received cash payments for their performance against the Lions, and the NFL has reported that two division quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre -- were specifically targeted by the bounty program. I'm going to take a guess and say this ain't over yet.