Rick Reilly: Players trapped in bounty case

I thought ESPN.com's Ricky Reilly did an awesome job articulating in this column something I've tried to get at in recent posts. Namely: The impossible situation that Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove found himself in during the NFL's investigation of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.

As you know by now, Hargrove revealed in a signed declaration that then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams instructed Hargrove to deny the existence of a bounty program when asked by NFL investigators in 2010. Williams prefaced his instructions by showing Hargrove a depth chart that revealed he was under consideration for a starting job the following season.

Reilly writes that the NFL follows a military structure that made it impossible for players to refuse participation in a bounty or, more specifically, for Hargrove to reject Williams' instructions and maintain his career:

In the NFL, you stand up to your coach on something like this, and you're immediately a "locker room lawyer" and suddenly you're Super-Glued to the bench. There are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL. You have two choices: You do what your coaches say or you do what your coaches say. …You do what your staff sergeant orders you to do, or you're playing in Winnipeg.

Reilly doesn't view Hargrove or any of the other Saints' players as total innocents in the matter. But given the circumstances, he views the 1-year suspension of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Hargrove's eight-game suspension as too harsh:

I'm not saying the players didn't take part. They did. It was wrong and dangerous and they deserved punishment. And I admire [Roger] Goodell for the steps he's taken to stop players from stupefying themselves with helmet-to-helmet collisions. But to slap these players as harshly as their bosses is like giving Bernie Madoff's secretary the same sentence as Madoff.

The entire column is worth your time.