NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has reissued sanctions on four players involved in the Saints' alleged bounty program from 2009-11. The NFL made the announcement of the penalties Tuesday, more than three weeks after an appeals panel temporarily vacated the suspensions because of uncertainty about whether the penalties were for conduct detrimental to the league or for salary-cap violations over cash payments.
Goodell said Tuesday that he was upholding penalties for linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita because their actions constituted conduct detrimental to the league. Vilma will remain suspended for the 2012 season, while Smith's suspension stays at four games. Hargrove's penalty was cut to seven games, and Fujita's suspension was reduced to one game.
"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases," Goodell said in a memo sent to all 32 teams. "In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story. In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play."
It was not immediately clear whether any or all of the players will issue appeals. The Players Association, which is representing Smith, Hargrove and Fujita, accused the league of ignoring the facts of the case. Vilma has independently filed a defamation suit against Goodell.
"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 NFLPA said in a statement. "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."
"At our meeting [last month], you confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a broader program in place among the Saints' defensive players," Goodell wroe to Vilma. "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. There is also credible evidence that you made a similar pledge regarding Kurt Warner in the immediately preceding playoff game against the Cardinals, but whether you made multiple pledges of that kind does not matter for purposes of the discipline that I have decided to impose."