As far as Drew Brees is concerned, the NFL's investigation into the Saints' "bountygate" scandal was flawed from the inception, and should be "started all over again" with the help of NFL Players Association.
The New Orleans free agent quarterback, who was part of a panel discussion on concussion awareness and prevention in youth sports Tuesday in Manhattan, said the league has yet to provide evidence that proves the Saints paid out bounties to players who intentionally sought to injure opponents.
Some might view the quarterback's role as a concussion advocate ironic, given the fact that a bounty scandal hangs over the Saints organization. But Brees believes his teammates and coaches are, at the moment, victims of an unjust rush to judgment.
The NFL had a "predetermined conclusion" it wanted to reach, he said, and subsequently steered its investigation in that direction.
"There's been an investigation, there's been a lot of stuff put in the media as to what was going on, but has there been anything to back it up? No, there's not. Not yet," said Brees, who partnered with The Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation and the PACE program to provide education on concussions.
"If there is, it needs to come forward, and if it is what they say it is, then punishments will be levied and deservedly so. But if there's not, then we need to vindicate the guys that were wrongfully accused."
Two former Saints and two current players were suspended without pay, including ex-Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who will miss the entire 2012-13 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire season and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely for his alleged role in the program.
But their Super Bowl champion quarterback isn't convinced Williams or any other coaches were involved.
"A lot of those coaches were living in fear of their careers if they didn't 'cooperate,'" Brees said. "I'm not convinced that some of those words and some of those statements were actually theirs. They were put in quotes and put into statements and unfortunately, I think some of that might have been put out there and labeled as their words."
Yesterday's panel discussion -- which included two-time Giants Super Bowl champion Carl Banks, retired Rangers goalie Mike Richter and former U.S. Women's national soccer champion goalie Briana Scurry -- was one of several stops on Brees' media tour. The quarterback -- who did several radio and TV interviews prior to the panel discussion, including guest appearances on "Good Morning America" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" -- used his concussion awareness platform to also voice his concern over the NFL's investigation and to discuss his current contract situation.
Despite being less than a month away from training camp, Brees said he's hopeful he'll get a long-term offer from the Saints before the July 16 deadline. After that point, franchised players must either sign their one-year tender (in Brees' case, worth $16.4 million) or sit out the entire season.
"I'm confident, and always have been, that we'll get a long-term deal accomplished," he said. "This has been a stressful offseason in a lot of ways. There have been a lot of distractions for everybody. I'm not using that as an excuse, other than just stating it as fact.
" ... But here we are, almost in the month of July, training camp's just around the corner, no contract yet. So there's still work to be done. I feel like there's been progress made over the last few weeks but there's still a ways to go. And I'm hopeful that it'll happen sooner than later."