NFL Nation: Goodell letters 100912

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita has repeatedly denied that he contributed money to a pool that allegedly paid his former Saints teammates for intentionally injuring opponents. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conceded that he couldn't prove that, which is why Fujita's suspension was reduced from three games to one Tuesday.

"While I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool, there is no serious question that you were aware of the pool and its elements, including that it provided rewards for cart-offs," Goodell wrote to Fujita in a letter that was released by the league.

Fujita previously insisted that the suspension and lost salary (which is now $214,705 for one game) was secondary to clearing his name. Four months ago, Fujita said his reputation has been seriously damaged by what he called a "smear campaign." A member of the NFL Players Association executive committee, Fujita was a proponent of stronger rules in dealing with concussions and player injuries.

Will the reduced suspension satisfy Fujita? That will be known when Fujita decides to accept the suspension or appeal.

The NFL Players Association, which represents Fujita and the three other Saints involved, indicated that this issue hasn't been resolved.

This is the statement released by the players' union: "For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake. We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance."

While Goodell couldn't prove that Fujita participated in the bounty program, he did scold the linebacker:

"Indeed, Mr. [Jonathan] Vilma testified that Coach [Gregg] Williams brought the program to the team’s defensive leaders before the 2009 season and that you supported and endorsed it. Your own comments confirm that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off’ the playing field.

“I am surprised and disappointed by the fact that you, a former defensive captain and a passionate advocate for player safety, ignored such a program and permitted it to continue. You made clear to me that participation in the program was voluntary and that other players could have refused to participate, as you claim to have done. If you had spoken up, perhaps other players would have refused to participate and the consequences with which we are now dealing could have been avoided."
In a memo to all 32 NFL teams announcing the revised punishment from the alleged three-year bounty program run by the New Orleans Saints, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed a significant detail about a 2010 game with Carolina.

In a previous memo, Goodell wrote that the Saints had a bounty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last season. In a section of this letter, Goodell details how the Saints rewarded defensive players for injuring opponents.

He referred to a 2010 game in which the New Orleans defense was commended for three “cart-offs’’ and one player placed on injured reserve.

“In that game,’’ Goodell wrote. “Three Carolina players were seriously injured: running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton, who were literally carted off the field with a head/neck and ankle injury, respectively, and quarterback Matt Moore, who was later placed on injured reserve, unable to return for the remainder of the season, with a torn labrum. These all satisfied (defensive coordinator Gregg) Williams’ definition of cart-offs: ‘big hits that resulted in an opposing player leaving the game due to the hit."

The Panthers are on bye this week, so it’s a little difficult to track down people for reaction. But, when the bounty on Newton was first revealed, I can tell you that some high-ranking team officials were not very pleased with the Saints.

Goodell's letter to Jonathan Vilma

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
5:45
PM ET
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.”
The NFL has announced that the four-game suspension for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith has been reinstated.

The league also provided part of a letter from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, explaining why he chose to stick with the initial punishment.

Here’s an excerpt of Goodell’s letter to Smith, provided by the NFL:

“At our meeting in September, you confirmed that you expressed approval of the program when it was first presented to you by (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams). You also confirmed that you provided money to the program pool both at the beginning of the season and again during the playoffs. I understand that you deny that anyone intended to inflict injury on any opposing player. Even in the face of repeated appeals to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart the guy off,’ you and others now claim that the objective was instead merely to ‘knock the wind out’ of your opponents, requiring them to leave the game for only a play or two. From the standpoint of player safety, fair competition, and the integrity of the game, the issues with which I am concerned today, this kind of after-the-fact explanation is little more than wordplay that, in my judgment as Commissioner, offers no basis on which to excuse conduct that does not belong in professional football. Such behavior is conduct detrimental without regard to the precise extent or duration of the disability intended.’’

I know a lot of New Orleans fans have been screaming for evidence. I think you’ve got it right there. Smith confirmed he approved of the bounty program and helped fund it.

Just when it seemed things were starting to look up for the New Orleans Saints, the franchise got another big blow.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports the initial season-long suspension for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and four-game suspension for defensive end Will Smith, which had been put on temporary hold just before the start of the regular season, have been put back in place. The only change for the current Saints is that Vilma will be able to keep his game checks while on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games of the season.

The other changes are for former New Orleans players Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) and Anthony Hargrove (out of the league). Fujita’s suspension has been reduced from three games to one game. Hargrove’s eight-game suspension has been lightened to seven games.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was asked by an appeals board to review his disciplinary decisions to make sure they weren’t related to the salary cap, came back with a firm ruling that the suspensions were due to conduct detrimental to the game.

I wouldn’t have expected any other result from Goodell, who has dug in his heels firmly since the NFL announced March 2 that it had found the Saints were running a three-year bounty program.

Goodell has an entire league to protect and the suggestion he let a bounty program go with little or no punishment could be disastrous to the NFL as it faces thousands of concussion lawsuits. Goodell made a strong statement once and he did it again Tuesday.

Goodell previously suspended coach Sean Payton for the entire season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also was suspended indefinitely. Other than an appeal to Goodell, there was nothing Payton, Loomis and Vitt could do because they didn’t fall under the umbrella of the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA went all out to protect the players, appealing the suspensions and helping to get a temporary restraining order. Vilma’s attorney also helped tie things up by filing a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.

But Goodell apparently has weathered the storm and I have no doubt he met extensively with his legal team before reinstating the suspensions.

I’m sure it’s possible (probably likely) more appeals could be filed and this thing could drag on longer. But at this point, why?

The season is approaching the halfway point and it already has been ruined for the Saints. Even with Smith, they went 1-4. Even if Vilma’s suspension were lifted, there’s no guarantee he would be healthy enough to come off the physically unable to perform list this season.

Vitt and Loomis are almost finished with their suspensions. Payton is approaching the halfway point of his. Smith should just accept the suspension and serve his four games. Vilma should just sit for the rest of the season.

The Saints don’t need the bounty drama hanging over them any longer. This is a way to get it all over with.

Take the punishment and let everyone come back next year with a fresh start.
Huddle up again because, for the second time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce player punishments in the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports an announcement is coming momentarily. Goodell initially issued suspensions for four players, but the punishments were set aside momentarily while an appeals board asked the commissioner to look at his decision again.

As soon as I get the official announcement, I'll be back with analysis.

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