WASHINGTON -- It seems the Washington Redskins have been doing more than just calling out formations between plays in recent seasons. They've also been setting the going rate for big hits.
"If the game was on the line and we had to kick off," said Steve Jackson, a Redskins assistant coach for eight years before he was dismissed in January, "there would be players that would come into the special teams huddle and say, 'If you get a tackle inside the 20-yard line, hey, that's 500 bucks.' And they would do the same thing in practice and everything. It was just the culture. Players trying to get each other motivated."
Redskins players told similar stories Monday, even as the team's former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, met with NFL investigators looking into the big-money bounty program he ran while holding the same position with the New Orleans Saints. While they offered intriguing details of how money changed hands -- in a way that happens to violate NFL rules -- those who spoke to The Associated Press said there was no outright bounty system in place when Williams was with the team from 2004-07.
"I've never seen a player get any money for hurting anybody," said Kedric Golston, a defensive lineman for the Redskins since 2006. "Gregg did fine people, and he'd pay out. It would be if you got a sack or an interception, or you made a pivotal play. He did fine us, and he did give that money back for doing things 'the right way' -- as he liked to put it."
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said a player could get rewards for knocking a player out of a game, but only after the fact -- not as part of a pre-meditated "bounty."
"If you have, like, a big hit, you could possibly get a kitty," Alexander said. "But not to say, 'You have to knock this player out,' and knock him out of the game with an injury. So it wasn't a bounty-type thing."
The money didn't come from the official fines announced by the team or the league -- those are deducted from paychecks and given to charity -- but instead from in-house gaffes, such as being late for a meeting or dropping an interception. Much of it was player-run, or, as Golston put it: ""It was how we policed ourselves."
"Each (position) group had a little kitty," Alexander said. "If you do something stupid, you pay 20 bucks into it and then, from time to time, whoever's the veteran or whoever's the leader in that room would say, 'Whoever gets an interception, you get an X amount of dollars from the kitty.' It was nothing malicious."
Alexander said the fines would sometimes get too big for cash, so the offender would write a check instead.
"You have some guys, like the top-echelon guys, that make a lot of good money," the player said, "they'll say, 'OK, this week I got $1,000 for whoever gets a sack or whoever gets an interception to the house.' And they'll take that out of their own personal (stash) and give it to them."
Jackson compared such motivational ploys to the "hit stick" that the Redskins for years have given to the player who makes the biggest hit on special teams in a victory.
"We had hit sticks," Jackson said. "We had an 'easy boy' recliner. You name it -- every motivational bribe -- but I don't remember any bounties."
But "bounties" is the exact word used by former Redskins safety Matt Bowen, who wrote on the topic on Friday in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Bowen wrote of prices that "were set on Saturday nights in the team hotel" when he played for the Redskins in the 2004-05 seasons.
"We targeted big names, our sights set on taking them out of the game," Bowen wrote.
Jackson said he doesn't recall anything of the sort, at least from Williams.
"I really don't remember him saying if you intentionally hurt somebody, you're going to get paid," Jackson said.
Jackson takes particular exception to the notion that a bounty system might have led to Peyton Manning's current injury problems. Speculation has it that the Indianapolis Colts quarterback first started having neck trouble when he was sacked by Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter in a game against the Redskins in 2006.
"Phillip Daniels is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Andre Carter, another one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," Jackson said. "They're not necessarily the most violent guys. And to think that Gregg waved a dollar bill out there and all of a sudden they turned into killers? It wasn't Antonio Pierce and Sean Taylor. It was probably two of the nicest most poetry-reading guys on the team."
Neither Daniels nor Carter returned calls seeking comment Monday.
Those higher up in the Redskins chain also denied knowledge of a bounty system under Williams. Joe Gibbs, the head coach when Williams was the defensive coordinator, told The Washington Post he was "not aware of anything like this." Vinny Cerrato, who oversaw the front office during that period, said essentially the same.
"I had no idea that this was going on. I never attended a defensive meeting," Cerrato told the AP. "I think that there are certain things that have gone on for a long time, but not to the extent that people are talking about with trying to put players out. I think when you're trying to injure players, that's not within the rules."
The current Redskins organization, including owner Dan Snyder, has declined to comment.
Williams is facing potentially severe punishment after admitting he ran a bounty pool of up to $50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games while he was with the Saints. The NFL is surely looking to see if he did the same with the Redskins and at his other stops around the league.
But, as it turns out, even those $500 payouts for tackles inside the 20 are against the rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season.
To Jackson, however, that seems as innocuous as a certain gambling obsession that strikes Americans this time of year.
"I'll tell you this," Jackson said. "We also had an office bracket on the March Madness, too. And everybody in the whole building would put in on it."