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NFL; Saints paid bounties for injuring opposing players

Mar 02, 2012 -- 4:14pm
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GREEN BAY – An NFL investigation produced damning evidence that New Orleans Saints players maintained a bounty program over the past three seasons that targeted opponents with the intent to injure them, and two coaches who were this close to working for the Green Bay Packers are among those caught up in the case.

The league disclosed the findings of an investigation Friday, saying between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved, and that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams administered the bounty program with knowledge of the other defensive assistants. Williams was one of the finalists for the Packers’ defensive coordinator job for which coach Mike McCarthy ultimately hired Dom Capers in January 2009. Williams left the Saints after the 2011 season and is now the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator.

In addition, Saints coach Sean Payton, when told of the bounty program by team owner Tom Benson, did nothing to discontinue the practice, even though he was found to not have been directly involved. Payton was the other applicant Packers general manager Ted Thompson seriously considered when he hired McCarthy in January 2006.

The Packers also faced the Saints while the bounty program was in place, beating New Orleans in the 2011 NFL season opener on Sept. 8.

The findings of the investigation – corroborated by multiple independent sources – have been presented to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who will determine the appropriate punishment

“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 released by the league. “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 cash into a pool and received cash payments of two kinds from the pool based on their play in the previous week’s game. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, but the program also included “bounty” payments for “cart-offs” (meaning that the opposing player was carried off the field) and “knockouts” (meaning that the opposing player was not able to return to the game).

The investigation showed that the total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at its height during the 2009 playoffs, when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. The program paid players $1,500 for a “knockout” and $1,000 for a “cart-off” with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs.

Payments of this type – even for legitimate plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries – are forbidden because they are inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and well-accepted rules relating to NFL player contracts.

The investigation included the review of approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals and the use of outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents.

The NFL 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).”

The NFL began its investigation in early 2010 after receiving allegations that quarterbacks Kurt Warner of Arizona and Brett Favre of Minnesota had been targeted. After interviewing several Saints who denied the bounty program existed—and having the player who originally made the allegations recant—the league couldn’t prove anything.

However, Goodell said the NFL “recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season.”

“I have been made aware of the NFL’s findings relative to the `Bounty Rule’ and how it relates to our club,” Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans.”

Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson were investigated by the NFL in 2007 after they promised each defensive lineman $500 if they held Minnesota's Adrian Peterson under 100 yards in one Packers-Vikings game and another $500 per man if they held the Carolina Panthers to fewer than 60 yards rushing in a game the following week.

The incident drew attention because Peterson carried 11 times for 45 yards during the game in question before suffering a knee injury on a low-but-legal tackle by Harris. The Panthers rushed for 131 yards in the game the next week.

At the time, McCarthy said the issue was "being resolved between our organization and the NFL" and called it a "miscommunication" because he and general manager Ted Thompson failed to tell the players they were violating a rule by offering such incentives.

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