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Friday, March 2, 2012
Saints bounty story worse than Spygate

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

As bad as the infamous New England Patriots' Spygate case was in 2007, no one got hurt except teams that lost close games. Placing a bounty on opponents is far worse.

According to an NFL investigation, New Orleans Saints players were rewarded from 2009-2011 for inflicting injuries on opposing players that resulted in them being removed from a game. A knockout was supposed to reward a defender $1.500; a "cart-off" was worth $1,000.

This story couldn't have come at a worse time for the Saints. The NFL wants to change the culture of the game by eliminating cheap shots and curtailing concussions. Retired players who suffered concussions in the NFL are suing the league. Studies continue to show how concussions cause more long-term damage than anyone in this sport realized.

To have a coach broker hits that are intended to damage the health of opponents can't, and won't, be tolerated. That's why I believe the penalty for this NFL crime will exceed the $750,000 fines and loss of a first-round draft pick that the Patriots were penalized in 2007. The Saints traded their first-round pick to the Patriots to move up to draft running back Mark Ingram in 2011. I wouldn't be surprised if the league takes away a second-round or third-round pick this year and a first-rounder next year.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has apologized for being ringreader of his pay-for-hit squad, could be suspended a couple of games next season and receive a large fine. Williams, now St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator, also had a similar pay-for-hit system while he was Washington Redskins defensive coordinator, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The people involved in the Saints' front office who allowed this to happen or didn't stop it when confronted with the possibility should also be fined severely and suspended.

Football is a sport that's violent enough. Having an incentive to hurt players can't be accepted. Commissioner Roger Goodell should deliberate this case and then make the biggest example out of the Saints so this offense won't be repeated. In Spygate, Goodell acted too quickly and did not penaltize the Patriots and Belichick as severely as he should have. Because Spygate happened early during the 2007 season, the Patriots and Belichick should have received a penalty beyond the fines during that season. A two- or three-game suspension of the head coach was warranted.

For a bounty, Saints defenders were encouraged to hurt opponents. Now, Goodell must make the Saints feel the pain for their actions over three seasons.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN