NFL Nation: Scott Fujita

As usual, former New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita weighed in with some compelling insight in the wake of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland's surprising decision to retire at age 24.

Fujita told the MMQB's Peter King that he also considered retiring after he suffered a concussion during the Saints' Super Bowl win against the Indianapolis Colts in February 2010 -- but he "chickened out."

"A week or so before free agency, everything cleared up, I felt good, and I realized I still wanted to play," said Fujita, who went on to sign a lucrative contract with the Browns and play three more seasons that were hampered by various injuries. "You think you've got one last chance for a bite at the apple, and you feel good enough, and you figure you should take it.

"That's why, with Borland, my first reaction is he was brave and smart and courageous to make a decision like this. And mature, for a 24-year-old. ...I can tell you this: No matter how intelligently you think about your future, and a decision like that, it's tough to get off the hamster wheel and stop playing."

Fujita is more attuned to the situation than most, since he works closely with friend and former Saints teammate Steve Gleason, who is battling ALS, as part of Team Gleason. And Fujita, who also played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys earlier in his 11-year NFL career, served as part of the NFL Player Association's executive committee when player safety was a huge part of the most recent labor negotiations.

Fujita opened up to ESPN The Magazine's David Fleming in 2012 about how he kept his concussion symptoms secret to stay in the game during that Super Bowl. That compelling article is also worth a re-read if you missed it. Although Fujita maintained that the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell got their handling of the Saints' bounty investigation "all wrong," he was very open about the conflicts he feels toward the culture of football and head trauma in general.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the simplistic terms, the Minnesota Vikings went from a soft-spoken father figure who rarely showed any signs of anger on the sideline to a demonstrative, fiery head coach with a strong command of four-letter vocabulary. Their switch from Leslie Frazier to Mike Zimmer could be viewed in terms of one of the most reliable cliches in coaching -- that when a team fires a coach, it always hires the opposite of what it just had -- but that makes it hard to know what to do with this:

When the Vikings fired Frazier, numerous players talked about what he'd meant to their lives, and running back Adrian Peterson -- who'd campaigned for the Vikings to keep Frazier -- was so upset he wouldn't talk to reporters about it until we caught up with him this week. Zimmer comes to Minnesota with an equally fierce adoration from the players he's coached, and retired linebacker Scott Fujita -- who was one of the game's most perceptive and thoughtful players -- penned this ode to Zimmer for Fox Sports.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsMike Zimmer will bring a different coaching style to Minnesota than the one the Vikings had under Leslie Frazier.
That's as impassioned an homage to a coach as I've seen a player write, and in it, Fujita raises a good point: The definition of what constitutes a "players' coach" is probably too simple.

"I honestly don’t even know what a players’ coach is and in the past few days, I’ve read reports that describe Zimmer as such," he writes. "Well if being a players’ coach means that the players have a long leash, and that the coach 'takes care of his guys' and is quick to throw them a bone, then I don’t know if I’d describe Zim that way. I think the more important questions about whether someone is a players’ coach should be this: Do his guys want to play for him? When he stands in front of the room, do they respect him and respond to him? Is he able to reach his players? From personal experience, I can answer yes to each of those questions as it relates to Mike Zimmer."

The funny thing is, I'd say Frazier got the same response out of his locker room. The success of coaches like Tony Dungy -- under whom Frazier worked in Indianapolis -- has done plenty to break down the stereotype of how a football coach has to behave, and from what I've heard players say about Zimmer, he doesn't necessarily fit into the typical hard-headed disciplinarian mode, either. He'll likely be louder, more blunt and more direct with criticism, but he also seems to exude a passion for the game that players love.

Can both approaches be effective? Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who played for Kirk Ferentz (a Bill Belichick disciple) in college, had Mike Tomlin as his first defensive coordinator and spent the last seven years with Frazier, says yes.

"I think all different styles can work," Greenway said. "You see guys from Tony Dungy to Belichick to (Bill) Parcells all win in different ways. It's more about who can get results. A change was made, and it'll be a different approach. I hope that breeds success. We'll get a new system with a little bit different style, and hopefully it leads to wins."

Both defensive end Brian Robison and fullback Jerome Felton had close friends who'd played for Zimmer and raved about him; Robison talked with Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who had Zimmer as his first defensive coordinator, and Felton spoke with Bengals safety Taylor Mays, who played for Zimmer the past three seasons. Both got the same report on Zimmer: Tough, profane, emotional and direct, both with criticism and praise.

Felton, who loved playing for Frazier, sounded particularly optimistic about that last trait.

"One of the most stressful parts about the NFL is wondering where you stand," Felton said. "If you can get an idea of where you stand, gives you a chance to know what you need to work on. You can just focus on football, rather than wondering, 'What’s going on? Why is this the situation happening?' When everybody asks what you want from a coach, I always talk about being an authentic person."

If there's going to be a major difference between Frazier and Zimmer -- both former Bengals defensive coordinators under Marvin Lewis -- it might be more in the scheme than anything else. The days of Frazier's Tampa-2 scheme are probably gone; Zimmer hasn't blitzed much more than Frazier in his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information, but he's been known to play more aggressive man coverage and use a number of different stunts to get his defensive linemen to the quarterback.

He coached in a 3-4 under Parcells, but has largely used a 4-3 scheme over the years, and Greenway expects the Vikings will stay with something similar to the 4-3 defense Zimmer called in Cincinnati.

"It's not that Coach Frazier and his ways can't win. It just wasn't working for us last year," Greenway said. "A new scheme, to a point, will be refreshing, and I hope, successful."

The Frazier-vs.-Zimmer comparison will be done ad nauseam in the coming weeks, but the NFL has a wider scope of coaching personalities today than it probably ever has. If Zimmer succeeds in Minnesota, it won't be because he's the opposite of what the Vikings had before. It will be because he can maximize what they have now.

"It's my first time going through a true coaching change, after Leslie taking over for Brad (Childress in the middle of 2010)," Greenway said. "It will be a lot of new things. That's not bad; it's just new and different."
So, 53 days after owner Jimmy Haslam announced there would be a battle for the starting quarterback job, the Cleveland Browns finally brought in the competition for Brandon Weeden.

Campbell
Jason Campbell was signed to a two-year contract Tuesday night, the team announced. This is a good fit for the Browns because offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to stretch the field and Campbell has a big arm, the best in a weak free-agent class.

Campbell, who was considered one of the top three quarterbacks available when free agency began, is a legitimate threat to Weeden because of his experience and ability to read defenses. Unlike last season, when no one really bought into Colt McCoy overtaking Weeden, the battle between Weeden and Campbell isn't for show.

The new regime of chief executive officer Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski didn't draft Weeden, so it should be a more level playing field. Even if Campbell doesn't win the job, he'll push Weeden to play better. The signing of Campbell likely ends McCoy's Browns career.

This marks Campbell's fourth team in five years. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, where he went 20-32 as a starter, and had success with the Oakland Raiders in 2011 before suffering a broken collarbone on a tackle by Browns linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. In his only start last season for the Chicago Bears, Campbell struggled against the San Francisco 49ers, throwing for 107 yards and two interceptions.

“Jason is an established leader who has started a number of games in this league and has had success,” Chudzinski said in a statement. “He brings us a veteran presence and a good set of physical tools. He played in a similar system when he was in Oakland and that will help in his transition.”

Campbell, 31, is entering his ninth NFL season and is only two years older than Weeden. If Campbell beats out Weeden, he would become the 19th starting quarterback for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.

Steve Gleason providing inspiration

January, 30, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- They’re having a Super Bowl here Sunday, but the best show of the week came Wednesday afternoon.

Adults cried tears of sorrow and joy, reporters violated the time-honored tradition of not clapping at news conferences and a clear winner emerged.

That was Team Gleason -- and, by extension, someday maybe the whole world.

[+] EnlargeSteve Gleason
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertFormer Saints player Steve Gleason, who is suffering from amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), leads a tour through Team Gleason House.
The setting was the formal announcement that Chase has donated $350,000 to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living. Team Gleason starts with Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, but likely added scores of more members with the emotional ceremony.

“This is an effort bigger than me, the blocked punt, the city of New Orleans and the Super Bowl ... bigger than football,’’ Gleason said using voice technology powered by his eyes.

Technology is the key to what Gleason and his team are doing. They’re building a facility for people with ALS that will be stocked with the latest in technology.

“It will allow them to be productive and to live with purpose,’’ Gleason said.

The living with purpose part is central to all this. Gleason and former teammate Scott Fujita, who lost an uncle to the disease 17 years ago, said that too many people have given up after receiving an ALS diagnosis.

“This is a disease that for far too long has been ignored and underfunded,’’ Fujita said. “That’s unacceptable.’’

That pretty much was the attitude Gleason took when he received his diagnosis.

“I did not want to fade away quietly,’’ Gleason said.

There’s no way that’s going to happen. Gleason is a New Orleans icon. That was assured the moment he made a critical punt block in the first game the Saints played in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“At that moment, we transformed ourselves from losers to winners,’’ New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

But Gleason’s link to the city he called home has become even stronger since the public became aware of his illness. Gleason has become a point of pride for an entire region because of the courage he’s shown. But he wants to be more than that.

“I believe this can be done regionally, nationally and even globally,’’ Gleason said.

After sitting there and listening to Gleason and his team talk about their plans, I have no doubt that’s possible. In fact, I believe Gleason’s work will have a global impact.

Team Gleason’s slogan is “Inspiring Innovation."

The innovation part is impressive. The inspiration part might be even more impressive.
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
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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.

NFLPA asks Tagliabue to step aside

October, 24, 2012
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The NFL Players Association just sent out a news release saying it will make a motion for former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to recuse himself from hearing the appeals of the four players that are facing suspensions in the New Orleans bounty drama.

Current commissioner Roger Goodell previously recused himself from hearing the appeals of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove. Tagliabue is scheduled to hear the appeals next week.

Throughout the process, the union has been trying to get a more neutral party to hear the appeals. We’ll see how Tagliabue responds to this. But I’ve got a feeling it still may be a long time before this situation gets resolved.

Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. The season is almost halfway over. I’m guessing that the legal maneuvering may delay any player suspensions from being served this season and it’s also possible that federal judge Ginger Berrigan might step in and throw out the suspensions.

In past proceedings, Berrigan has indicated she believes the penalties are too harsh, but she’s been hesitant to make a ruling until it’s clear if, under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell has the jurisdiction to issue the suspensions.
A season to forget is over for Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who will be placed on injured reserve Wednesday. This also could mark the end of his 11-year NFL career.

Fujita
Fujita
Fujita is dealing with a neck injury that the team and doctors believe could stop him from playing again, league sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen earlier this month.

If this was Fujita's final season, it couldn't have gone much worse. He originally received a three-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the Saints' bounty scandal and that was eventually reduced to one game. Fujita has repeatedly said he never participated in the Saints' pay-for-hits program and recently blasted NFL commissioner for "an absolute abuse of power."

Now, with the possibility of Fujita never playing again, the fight to get rid of the suspension is now a matter of principle. Fujita has maintained that his goal is to clear his name.

I was surprised that the Browns stuck with Fujita this long. While he has always been known as a strong leader, he never fit into the Browns' youth movement. He struggled with injuries (missing 16 of 39 games) and was never an impact player when he was out on the field. This year, Fujita was more of a distraction with his ongoing battle with the league.

In other Browns news, defensive tackle Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle) is expected to practice for the first time this season but he is not expected to play Sunday. Also, left guard Jason Pinkston, who was recently placed on injured reserve with a blood clot in his lung, has been released from the hospital.
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has recused himself from hearing the appeals of player suspensions in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty saga.

I’d say that’s at least a momentary victory for Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita.

The players had been asking Goodell to recuse himself and claiming that he is biased and wouldn’t be able to give them a fair hearing on their appeals. I think this also could set a precedent that might limit Goodell’s power to be the sole judge and jury in player discipline. That’s something players fought for, but didn’t get, in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. This doesn't help Goodell's public image, especially on the same day that former Minnesota defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy accused the commissioner of being a liar for saying Kennedy was a "whistleblower'' on the bounty program.

Goodell said he has appointed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals.

That brings the question of if the appeals really can be fair. Goodell worked for Tagliabue for years and the two are close. When Tagliabue retired, Goodell had his blessing to be the successor.

“To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process,’’ Goodell said in a statement. “Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue’s decisions.”

Tagliabue will hear the appeals Oct. 30.

At the very least, getting a fresh set of eyes and ears on the appeals at least gives the appearance that the players are getting a fair shake. At most, it might convince federal judge Ginger Berrigan, who has implied she thinks that Vilma’s suspension was too harsh, that this case could go beyond Goodell’s jurisdiction and into her jurisdiction.

There still are likely to be a lot of twists and turns in this saga, but I'd say right now things have swung in favor of the players.

Video: Fujita injury career-threatening

October, 15, 2012
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According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita is facing a career-threatening neck injury.

Browns' Ahtyba Rubin is inactive

October, 14, 2012
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The injuries for the Cleveland Browns defense continues Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin sustained a lower leg injury last week and has not practiced. He is being replaced by rookie John Hughes.

Cleveland will also be without outside linebacker Scott Fujita. He missed time this week with what the team has listed as a shoulder/neck problem on its injury report. Rookie James-Michael Johnson is taking over for Fujita.

Here are the inactives:

BROWNS: WR Mohamed Massaquoi, CB Dimitri Patterson, FS Tashaun Gipson, OT Ryan Miller, DT Ahtyba Rubin, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Scott Fujita.

BENGALS: WR Mohamed Sanu, CB Jason Allen, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S George Iloka, DT Brandon Thompson, WR Ryan Whalen and TE Richard Quinn.
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."

Goodell's letter to Jonathan Vilma

October, 9, 2012
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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.”

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.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 23, Browns 16

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
11:55
PM ET

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday:

What it means: The Ravens (3-1) took a half-game lead in the AFC North over the Bengals (2-1) by winning their franchise-record 13th straight game at home, which is also the longest current streak in the NFL. Just like the controversial Monday night game, it came down to a shot to the end zone. But the regular officials didn't have to make a tough call like their replacement counterparts. Brandon Weeden's first pass to the end zone was knocked down and his second one sailed to the back of the end zone. It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens were playing their fourth game in 17 days and were taking on a division opponent in a steady downpour. One of two winless teams in the NFL, the Browns dropped to 0-4 for the fourth time in their history (1975, 1999 and 2009 were the other times). Cleveland has lost 10 in a row, their longest losing streak since losing 10 straight from 2008 to '09.

Celebrating in style: Ravens cornerback Cary Williams intercepted the first pass of his career and he made it memorable. He jumped a Weeden pass on the sideline and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, which put the Ravens ahead, 23-10, late in the third quarter. Williams has been frequently picked on by quarterbacks this season.

Flacco on the move: Joe Flacco threw for 356 yards, but he also impacted the game with his legs. On third-and-goal in the third quarter, Flacco ran to the outside, where he put a move on Browns linebacker Scott Fujita before scoring on a 1-yard run. Flacco's fifth rushing touchdown of his career put the Ravens ahead, 16-7. Flacco's streak of 125 passes in the red zone without an interception ended earlier in the game.

Ravens' receivers stepping up: The Ravens wide receivers took advantage of the Browns not having their top cornerback Joe Haden, who sat out the third game of a four-game suspension. Anquan Boldin caught nine passes for 131 yards, and Torrey Smith had 97 yards receiving, including his third touchdown in five days.

Another critical drop by Little: It looked like wide receiver Greg Little was getting out of Pat Shurmur's doghouse until he dropped a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Instead of getting the Browns to within 23-20, they had to settle for another long field goal. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin had a pass bounce off his chest while in the end zone in the final minute with the Browns down 23-16.

Richardson keeps up his streak: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson didn't fare well against the Ravens' run defense, which didn't give him any holes. He finished with 47 yards rushing on 14 carries. Richardson, though, did score a touchdown in his third straight game. He beat Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain to the end zone after taking a pitch from Weeden.

Dawson from long distance: It seemed like last season with the Browns' Phil Dawson hitting long field goals. He converted from 51, 50 and 52 yards. This was his fourth from 50 or longer this year and his 11th since the start of the 2011 season.

Scary moment: Already playing without leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), the Browns lost another receiver when Josh Cribbs was knocked out of the game with a head injury. Cribbs' helmet was dislodged on a punt return when linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hit his head with his right shoulder, which also forced a fumble. Cribbs got up on his own power and walked off the field before going to the locker room.

What's next: The Ravens travel for just the second time this season, playing at Kansas City. The Browns are at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

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