There is no precedent for what is happening in the NFL this week.
NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas joined me in navigating key issues affecting the Saints and Williams, who left New Orleans for the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Pull up a chair and we promise no one gets hurt.
Yasinskas: First off, I have no doubt the league is going to come down hard on the Saints. Personally, I think the NFL should suspend Payton and Loomis for a year. If not, owner Tom Benson, even though he has pledged to stand behind his coach and general manager, should go ahead and fire them. Loomis flat-out ignored Benson's order to put a stop to the bounty program. Payton knew about it and didn't stop it. They defied Benson and disgraced his franchise.
Sando: Payton and Loomis brought a championship to New Orleans. I believe that's what matters to Benson. No way would he give back that Super Bowl victory to avoid this scandal. And let's face it, if these Saints were the 1976 Raiders, we'd be watching an NFL Films special set to a reverent score, reminiscing about how the game was played when gladiators roamed the arenas.
Yasinskas: I totally get the argument that football is a physical game and there naturally will be violence and injuries. I also get the argument that bounties may have gone on for years in other places. Maybe they still do. But those aren't the issues here and have absolutely no relevance. What we're talking about is a GM who was told to stop the bounty system, but did not. We're also talking about a coach who knew about the system and did nothing to stop it. Payton and Loomis defied their owner and their league, disgracing both.
Sando: Benson didn't seem too shook up about it. He offered a 59-word statement featuring a brief acknowledgement of the charges, followed by a sentence saying the Saints "look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans." I have a hard time believing Benson would push his top guys out the door.
Yasinskas: Short of a suspension or firing, Payton and Loomis should do what a lot of college coaches and officials have done when their programs have run into trouble -- resign to spare the program additional embarrassment. For all the good Payton and Loomis have done for the Saints through the years, this may overshadow it all. At the very least, this already has unveiled a culture of arrogance (or a sense of being above everyone else) that's been around for a long time. More and more keeps coming out and I'm sure the league is absolutely delighted (ultimate sarcasm intended) that Mike Ornstein's felonious name is being tied to all this. He was once a member of Reggie Bush's marketing team, a close friend of Payton's and once did prison time for fraud.
Sando: The Ornstein element should invite its own investigation, but I haven't seen evidence the league is interested in going down that road. Instead, it looks to me like the lawyers have taken over Roger Goodell's office. They realize taking a strong stance against bounties could strengthen the NFL's position regarding lawsuits from players alleging negligence on safety. It could help the league eventually justify an 18-game regular season.
Yasinskas: Yep, if this happened 15 or 20 years ago, it's a non-issue or a slap on the wrist. But Goodell has made player safety one of his biggest crusades. Plus, safety was a big part of the CBA negotiations last summer. How many stories have we seen about concussions? I'm not trying to go lightly on the Saints here, but I think the fact is, they did what they did at the worst possible time in league history.
Sando: The league cannot condone formal bounty systems organized by coaches, but the game is still officiated on the field. Policing intent is unrealistic. This is not Pop Warner ball. Players either deliver hits within the rules or outside them. Crews featuring a referee, head linesman, line judge, side judge, field judge and back judge have scrutinized every hit the Saints have delivered, throwing flags the way they would for any other team. The league office has reviewed those same plays and meted out fines in some cases. No one from the Saints was waiting for opponents in dark alleyways the week before the games. Shane Stant was not on the roster.
Yasinskas: True, although I wouldn't be surprised if another means of punishment is for the NFL to charge the Saints for the bounties under the salary cap. It's a physical game and there's no doubt fans like big hits and that helps drive the popularity of the game. I like watching big hits, too, as long as they're within the rules. If this had been players acting on their own, well, it's understandable and not that big a deal. Players are competitors by nature. But this was highly organized and orchestrated by a defensive coordinator. More significantly, it was approved of, to some degree, by a coach and a GM. That's a big problem.
Sando: It's a big problem for Williams. For that, he can blame his own big mouth. Winning was never good enough for Williams. He had to let everyone know how great he was at motivating players to unleash mayhem on their opponents. He reveled in it, even flaunted it. Now he is going to pay a price.
Yasinskas: I don't see any way Williams gets off easy on this one. He's at least as wrong as Payton and Loomis. He should be suspended for at least a year, maybe even banned. But those who want to see Williams become the only fall guy are missing the point by a mile. There still are guilty parties in New Orleans. Payton and Loomis ran the franchise. For three years, they basically enabled Williams and the bounty system. Strange thing is, for as vicious as this defense supposedly was, it never was really all that good. The Saints might have been able to play a better brand of defense if they had simply stayed within the rules.
Sando: The Saints' swagger on defense was part of their identity during that Super Bowl season, for sure. I think it contributed to their ability to force turnovers. It was part of why they won. To what degree does that taint their championship? Pat and I addressed that one in the video above. Thanks for coming along.