Players on deck for punishments

Now we know for certain that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton will be suspended for the 2012 season, general manager Mickey Loomis will be suspended for the first eight games, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt will be out for the first six games.

Did anybody think they had a chance when they were making their appeals to the same man (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) who issued the punishments in the first place?

Sometime soon, I’m pretty sure we’ll find out who will take over for Payton. It could be Bill Parcells or someone else from outside, or it could be one of the current New Orleans assistants. That almost certainly has to come before the Saints begin their offseason program April 16.

But there still is one very big unknown in this whole saga. That’s potential punishments for players. In its initial announcement of punishments for Payton and the others, the NFL said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in a three-year bounty program. Other than middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the initial report was very vague about player involvement. But the league has said it collected a mountain of evidence in its investigation, and that player discipline could include fines and suspensions.

The league hasn’t said anything about a timetable for announcing player punishments, but this report says they’re likely to become between now and April 26. That makes total sense, because April 26 is the date the NFL draft starts. That’s one of the biggest events of the year, and it’s likely the league doesn’t want to take any attention off it by allowing the matter of player discipline to linger.

There’s another factor that could be creating a bit of a sense of urgency to make decisions on player punishment. There’s no doubt the NFL has taken away some competitive advantage from the Saints with the first round of punishments. But the league also has given the Saints time to prepare for them.

The Saints don’t have a draft pick until the third round, but this still remains an important draft for the Saints. If they know who will be suspended and for how long, they’ll have a chance to get some possible replacements in the draft. I think it's fair for the Saints to know before the draft which players they might have to look to replace.