NFL denies Saints' appeals
The NFL upheld its discipline in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, meaning coach Sean Payton will begin his yearlong suspension April 16.
The league announced the penalties Monday, noting that the bans for general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant coach Joe Vitt (six games) stand and will begin after the preseason. Payton's suspension will last through Super Bowl XLVII, which is being held in New Orleans.
The NFL's statement said that commissioner Roger Goodell will review the status of all three individuals after each suspension ends and sources told ESPN that Payton, Loomis and Vitt will have to adhere to league restrictions during their suspensions or put at risk their timely reinstatement, possible reductions of financial penalties, and possible modification of a forfeited 2013 second-round draft pick.
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The NFL's ruling sets up the Saints and head coach Sean Payton for the biggest week of Payton's NFL career, writes Pat Yasinskas. Blog
A league official tells ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that means, for example, that Payton is "not allowed to engage in any coaching activities. Roger [Goodell] commented on that at the league meeting press conference, saying he's not na´ve enough to think there won't be some contact but [Payton's] not allowed to coach from home ... If a player has a baby, can he call to congratulate him? I don't think we're going to worry about that, or have a wiretap on his phone."
The team was previously fined $500,000 and docked second-round picks this year and next for a three-year pay-for-pain system that rewarded injury-causing hits by Saints defenders. While the Saints cannot salvage their 2012 second-rounder, the league's announcement suggested there could be a modification of the 2013 pick penalty and reduction in the individuals' lost pay, although the fine will not be reduced.
"The club and the individuals will be expected to cooperate in any further proceedings and to assist in the development and implementation of programs to instruct players and coaches at all levels on principles of player safety, fair play, and sportsmanship," the league said in a statement.
Payton, Loomis and Vitt had an appeal hearing with the league on Thursday.
The former New Orleans defensive coordinator at the center of the bounties case, Gregg Williams, was suspended indefinitely and did not appeal. Williams was hired by the St. Louis Rams on Jan. 23 as their defensive coordinator.
NFL investigators concluded that from 2009 to '11, the Saints offered improper cash bonuses for big hits that either knocked opponents out of games or left them needing help off the field.
Monday's decision could open the way for the Saints to coax retired coach Bill Parcells -- Payton's mentor since their days together in Dallas -- out of retirement.
Parcells, a Hall of Fame finalist who turns 71 in August, has said he would consider coaching the Saints if asked to help his former protégé. Payton and Loomis played golf with the former NFL coach during NFL meetings in South Florida last month to talk to him about the team's predicament. However, a source told ESPN's Mortensen that Parcells had not spoken with the team in six days.
Payton's suspension was supposed to begin April 1, but he was allowed to continue working while his appeal was pending, delaying plans to select an interim coach.
If the Saints decide to hire an interim coach from outside the organization, as would be the case with Parcells, the club also would have to interview a minority candidate to comply with the NFL's "Rooney Rule."
Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and took the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, has not coached since retiring from the Cowboys after the 2006 season, though he then worked in Miami's front office.
The Saints also could decide to promote from within the current staff.
There are three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his assistants to compensate for his absence, but also has voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities.
Vitt also could be a candidate to step in, as he did briefly last season when Payton broke his leg, once his suspension ends.
Loomis, who declined comment to The Associated Press on Monday, will be able to oversee the draft and handle other roster moves. When the preseason concludes, he will serve his suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way.
With all the uncertainty, Payton had been working long hours at the Saints' suburban New Orleans headquarters trying to cram as much planning for 2012 into whatever time he had left.
Payton has said he laid out plans for the offseason training program and the beginning of training camp, up until the Saints play Arizona in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.
On the same day that the Saints trio was appealing their bans, an audio tape of Williams addressing the team prior to the Saints' January 2012 playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers was released. In the tape, Williams implored players to "put a lick" on 49ers receiver Kyle Williams to see if he had lingering effects from a concussion.
Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who had access to Saints meetings for a documentary on football, posted the audio on his website.
Pamphilon initially shared the content with Yahoo! Sports, telling the website that while he was not bothered by much of Williams' profanity-laced speech, he was troubled by comments about the previously concussed player.
"I thought, 'Did he just say that?' " Pamphilon said in an article posted Thursday. "That was the red flag for me."
"We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head," he says.
Williams also implores his charges to "lay out" Smith and later adds, "We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a [expletive] prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy. He becomes human when we ... take out that outside ACL."
Pamphilon also described Williams pointing to his chin when he said, "We hit [expletive] Smith right there."
Pamphilon said Williams then rubbed his fingers together as one might do when doling out cash, saying, "I got the first one," which Pamphilon understood to mean the defensive coordinator had placed a cash bounty on Smith.
Former Saint Steve Gleason decried the release of the recording in a statement on his website on Friday, saying he felt "deflated and disappointed" with Pamphilon's decision to release the audio recording.
Gleason has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and has allowed Pamphilon to capture his struggle with the incurable disease. He played for the Saints from 2000 to 2007 and maintains a strong relationship with the club, which has backed his efforts to improve the lives of those living with the debilitating symptoms of ALS.
Saints Bounty Scandal
An NFL investigation found the New Orleans Saints operated a bounty system that rewarded 22 to 27 players for hard hits and for injuring opposing players. Profile »
Gleason said there was an agreement that he and his family would own the rights to any recordings made of his interaction with the Saints and that "nothing can be released without my explicit approval." However, Pamphilon told Yahoo! Sports on Friday he followed the production agreement and did not violate a contractual agreement with Gleason.
The NFL's initial report on the bounty program also found between 22 and 27 Saints defenders participated and a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Monday that a decision on whether to discipline players, and how much to discipline them, could be announced later this week but is more likely to come next week.
The NFL Players Association met with league officials regarding the bounty investigation last week and multiple media outlets reported Monday that the union has retained the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski. Union spokesman George Atallah told NFL.com that the firm was hired to assist the entire union in the bounty case and not to represent any individual players.
A couple of those Saints players who played in New Orleans during the period in question previously told The Associated Press they take issue with how the system has been portrayed.
The players spoke on condition of anonymity because the NFL has not decided how to punish players connected to the improper bonus program.
"I don't feel like anything was ever literal," one of the players said, referring to the way coaches such as Williams and teammates spoke of brutalizing opponents.
"There's a pretty good sense of fraternity around the league, and players generally understand and respect the bounds of the game. But it takes a lot of passion to play football, and the tough talk was more about getting players in the right mind-frame to go out and do their job."
The players also said it's common around the league to participate in incentive pools and to discuss testing an opposing player's threshold for pain, particularly when he has a known injury.
"When it was spoken about -- and it was spoken about on every team -- it's more along the lines of: 'Tom Brady has sore ribs, so let's test him out. Let's test out his ribs,' " the second player said.
"You're just trying to win the game," the player continued. "It's a business and we want to attack our competing business' weakness."
Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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