Saints' penalties could be severe

If you push an envelope for three years straight, you’re bound to end up with a very nasty paper cut.

That’s how I view what’s happening to the New Orleans Saints. The NFL announced Friday that the Saints ran a “bounty program’’ the past three seasons. The league says former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and anywhere from 22 to 27 players funded a program in which players were financially rewarded for inflicting injuries on opponents and for knocking them out of the game.

The league also said general manager Mickey Loomis failed to stop the program when instructed to do so, and that coach Sean Payton was aware of the allegations but did not take any steps to stop the program.

If any of this comes as a surprise to you, it shouldn't. At various times, there have been subtle hints and reports about the Saints having a bounty program.

Although much of America has been consumed by the success story that has been the Saints in recent years -- the major role they played in the Gulf region's recovering from Hurricane Katrina, the magical Super Bowl championship and the legend of Drew Brees -- that’s not the whole story of the Saints.

They have done some truly wonderful things, but they are not -- and have not been -- a perfect organization by any means. Around the league they’re viewed by many as arrogant, and a lot of people think the Saints play by their own rules.

Even during the week they won the Super Bowl, they repeatedly infuriated league officials by doing whatever they pleased. They were an hour late for media day, something that’s unheard of. Tight end Jeremy Shockey failed to show for a media session later in the week, and the league stepped in and ordered team officials to go get Shockey immediately. Payton tried to skip the news conference the morning after the Super Bowl but was told by the league’s highest powers that he would be in huge trouble if he didn’t show. He grudgingly attended.

A lot of people around the league also think that Payton has unnecessarily run up the score on opponents. There also was a lawsuit brought by the team’s former security director that alleged Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt were “stealing’’ Vicodin pills, but that quietly went away. Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, is also viewed as arrogant by many around the NFL.

The perception around the league is that the Saints have been living on the edge, and not making a lot of friends in the process.

That kind of attitude can only come back to bite you, and that appears to be what’s happening now. The evidence of the bounty program has been presented to commissioner Roger Goodell, and he’ll examine it to determine if there will be disciplinary action. That reportedly could include fines, suspensions and forfeiture of draft choices.

If it’s all true -- the Saints were out to harm others and top team officials did nothing to stop it -- I’d look for Goodell to throw the book at the Saints. In the league office this isn’t a beloved franchise like the Steelers, Giants or Packers. The Saints have angered some important people in recent years.

That means the penalties probably will be severe. But that’s what happens when you push the envelope too hard and for too long.