Sean Payton during his season-ending news conference at their NFL...

Sean Payton during his season-ending news conference at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La. (Jan. 17, 2012) Credit: AP

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell heard appeals today from the Saints over their punishment in connection with an illegal bounty program that NFL investigators said was used from 2009-11. He could rule as soon as tomorrow on suspensions handed down to head coach Sean Payton (the entire 2012 season), GM Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitta (six games).

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely, has not appealed his punishment. 

Vitt's attorney, David Cornwell, said after meeting with Goodell at the league's headquarters that it was former Williams who was at fault for the bounty system, and called Williams a "rogue coach" who disregarded orders from Payton and Loomis to discontinue the program when told the NFL had re-opened its investigation in January.

Yahoo! Sports reported today that it had heard a tape of Williams before the Saints' playoff game against the 49ers urging his players to target specific opponents, including wide receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore.  

"We're absolutely aware of [the report], and it’s important to put this in context," Cornwell said outside the league's Park Ave. headquarters. "It was around the Detroit [playoff]  game that the Saints were advised that the investigation had been re-opened. Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton went to Gregg ]Williams] and said there’s no place for this in this organization or in this league and Sean will tell you that in his view what you saw was a rogue coach who knew he was about to get fired." 

Williams was told two days after the playoff loss to the 49ers that he would not be back for the 2012 season. 

Cornwell defended Vitt and said he was not complicit in the program. 

"Joe Vitt has coached in the National Football League for 33 years, for nine teams and has a successful record of coaching men who play the game the right way, as reflected as having won a Super Bowl and gotten a world championship," Cornwell said. "Our concern was that whether it was by media impression, the investigation or whatever, that there was an impression that Joe was participating in and complicit it in a program that was designed to hurt players on the other side. Joe in his appeal letter and again with the commissioner today made it clear that, to the extent we have to take responsibility, he's going to stand up. But it’s very important not to leave with the impression that he had done anything to suggest that playing the game in a way that hurts somebody else is the right thing to do."

Said Vitt: "The comimsioner has a tough job. I’ve tried to earn the respect of my players. Now, I want to earn the respect of [Goodell]. We tried to make the point to the commissioner that the results on the field don’t match the charges that have been brought against our football team. We don’t teach this, but at the same time, we have to watch what we say and what we do." 

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