What could happen to Gregg Williams

The New Orleans Saints are in trouble — deep, deep trouble — for the bounties they offered for knocking out opposing players.

The question for NFC West observers is to what degree this Saints scandal will affect new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who held the same job in New Orleans from 2009 through last season.

Williams has apologized for his "participation" in the bounty program. He called it a mistake and said "we" knew it was wrong, implying shared blame. Williams admitted to "getting caught up in it" without saying he was the organizer. He took "full responsibility for my role" without detailing the extent of that role. He also said he would never "participate in or allow" similar activity in the future.

Williams' former players have described similar bounty systems when they played for him in Washington. That opens Williams to criticism outside whatever culture coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis might have promoted or condoned in New Orleans.

Light shined upon the player-safety issue in recent years arguably stands as the biggest threat to the NFL's future. Commissioner Roger Goodell realizes this, and that is why he has been so aggressive in taking ownership of an issue that was getting away from the league previously. Goodell has promoted rules changes, hammered offending players with fines and taken every opportunity to stress safety issues in general.

The Saints scandal provides Goodell with a rare opportunity to attack player safety at the institutional level. Individual players have felt his wrath previously. Goodell can go after the Saints vigorously without taking on players specifically. That is a bonus for Goodell given the borderline hatred some NFL players have expressed toward him.

Many questions remain unanswered.

Was Williams doing anything unusual? How prevalent are bounty systems? Have other coordinators organized or condoned similar systems? ESPN analyst Damien Woody, who played for three NFL teams over a 12-year career, said bounty systems exist throughout the league. The existence of other similar systems might shift some of the focus away from Williams specifically. But will the league care?

The Rams appear well positioned to handle a Williams suspension. Head coach Jeff Fisher has been a defensive coordinator. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis has been a defensive coordinator and head coach. Both could fill the void capably if a suspension kept Williams away from the team.

Williams' long association with Fisher, coupled with revelations that a bounty system existed when Williams was with the Redskins, invites questions about what went on when Fisher and Williams were together in Houston and Tennessee.

Fisher played for Buddy Ryan in Chicago. Ryan's bounty systems made news when he was with Philadelphia. Williams and Ryan were together in Houston with the Oilers for the 1993 season. Williams and Fisher were together with Houston and Tennessee from 1994 to 2000.

This story is only going to gain momentum. The extent of Williams' involvement with bounty systems in New Orleans and elsewhere will be pivotal to his fate.