An extensive investigation by the NFL has determined that as many as 27 defensive players on the Saints, as well as former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, organized a bounty system funded by the players and Williams during the 2009-11 seasons.
The investigation, conducted by the league’s security department and released by the league today, found that the bounty system would reward defensive players for inflicting injuries on opposing players that resulted in them being taken out of games.
The findings have been presented to commissioner Roger Goodell, who will had out discipline that could result in fines, suspensions and the removal of draft choices.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Goodell said in a statement. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
The players regularly contributed money into a pool and received payments based on their performance from the previous week’s game, according to the league’s investigation. Payments were made for interceptions and fumble recoveries, but also included payments for “cart-offs,” where an player was carried off the field, and “knockouts,” where players couldn’t return to the game. Among the targets were quarterbacks Brett Favre of the Vikings and Kurt Warner of the Cardinals during the 2009 playoffs. The Saints won the Super Bowl that season.
The investigation indicated the total amount of the bounty pool may have reached $50,000 or more during the 2009 playoffs.
The league has a longstanding rule prohibiting “Non-Contract Bonuses.” Non-contract bonuses violate both the NFL Constitution and By-Laws and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clubs are advised every year of this rule in a memo from the commissioner. Citing Sections 9.1(C)(8), and 9.3(F) and (G) of the Constitution and By-Laws, the memo for the 2011 season stated:
“No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”
“Our investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Kurt Warner of the Cardinals and Brett Favre of the Vikings,” Goodell said. “Our security department interviewed numerous players and other individuals. At the time, those interviewed denied that any such program existed and the player that made the allegation retracted his earlier assertions. As a result, the allegations could not be proven. We recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season.”
The investigation found that Williams administered the bounty system, with the knowledge of other defensive coaches. Williams occasionally contributed money to the pool, according to the league.
Saints owner Tom Benson gave immediate and full cooperation to the investigators, and the report said Benson did not know about the bounty program. The league said Benson informed general manager Mickey Loomis about the program, and that it needed to be stopped immediately. However, the league said evidence indicated that Loomis did not carry out those orders. The investigation also found that Loomis denied any knowledge of a bounty system when initial allegations were discussed with him in 2010.
Head coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the bounty program, but he was aware of the allegations and did not make any significant inquiry into the matter and failed to stop the system. He never told his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was against NFL rules.
Goodell has advised the Saints that he will hold further proceedings to determine the severity of any discipline involved against individuals and the team. Any discipline can be appealed, but Goodell will hear any such appeal. Goodell has also informed the team that he will impose further penalties if he finds out any additional information about the matter.