As expected, the NFL has come down hard on the New Orleans Saints for violating a long-standing rule that prohibits teams from rewarding players for deliberately injuring opposing players — the so-called "bounty" program.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 season effective April 1. General manager Mickey Loomis will miss the first eight regular-season games without pay and the Saints were hit with a $500,000 US fine.
Former Saints defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will review Williams's status after the upcoming season and consider whether he can return to the league.
Williams left New Orleans to take over as defensive co-ordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was hit with a six-game suspension.
In addition, the team was stripped of second-round picks in 2012 and 2013.
“Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league’s most important initiatives — enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so. Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL.”
Payton and Loomis took the blame for violations that they acknowledged "happened under our watch."
Williams apologized for his part in the team's team's bounty program — which targeted opposing players — from 2009-11. The NFL went public with its investigation on March 2.
As part of the probe, the league stated that owner Tom Benson had "nothing to do" with the bounty program. In fact, when alerted of the program, Benson instructed Loomis to put a stop to it, according to the investigation.
The NFL said payoffs went to 22 to 27 defensive players for inflicting game-ending injuries on targeted opponents, including quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
The league has held off punishing of the players involved because it is still revieving the case with the NFL's Players Association.
The punishment handed down to the Saints eclipsed the one the NFL handed down to the New England Patriots back in 2007, when the franchise was hit with a $250,000 fine for illegally videtaping an opponent in the now infamous "Spygate."
The team was forced to forfeit a first-round draft pick, and head coach Bill Belichick was also fined $500,000.