New York, NY (Sports Network) - The National Football League released the results of a lengthy investigation on Friday, which discovered that Saints players utilized a bounty program from 2009-2011.
The investigation found that between 22 and 27 defensive players, as well as at least one assistant coach, maintained the illegal program, which included payments to players for inflicting game-ending injuries on competitors.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has been presented with the findings and will determine the appropriate discipline for the actions.
"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for 'performance,' but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said. "It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."
According to the NFL, Saints players regularly contributed money into a pool and received improper cash payments based on their performance in the previous week's games. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, but also included compensation for injury-inducing plays.
The pool paid $1,500 for a "knockout" -- meaning the opposing player was unable to return to the game -- and $1,000 for a "cart-off" -- meaning the opposing player was carried off the field. The total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at the program's peak during the 2009 playoffs.
"I have been made aware of the NFL's findings relative to the "Bounty Rule" and how it relates to our club," Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement. "I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans."
Ed Daniels' Take:
The fallout from the Saints "bounty program" could be substantial.
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis could face fine or suspension or both. Gregg Williams will likely be suspended. It is not out of the realm of possibility that key personnel could be fired over the severity of the bounty program.
And it is likely that the Saints will be forced to surrender several draft picks because of the bounty program.
In 2008, the New Englang Patriots forfeited a first round pick and head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role in spygate, the taping of defensive signals by the New York Jets. The Patriots were also fined $250,000.
This appears to be a far more serious violation.
The "Pay for Performance" program violates the NFL's rule prohibiting "Non- Contract Bonuses."
The rule states that "No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team's performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players)."
The NFL's investigation included "the review of approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals and the use of outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents."
The NFL Players Association also weighed in on the issue.
"Health and safety is a paramount issue to the NFLPA. The NFLPA was informed of this investigation by the NFL earlier today and will review the information contained in the league's report," the NFLPA said in a statement.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, in charge of the defense in New Orleans during the three year span in question, apologized for his role in the "bounty" payments through a statement from his new employers, the St. Louis Rams:
“I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.”
The Saints have gained a reputation in league circles as a dirty team in recent years, and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said this past season that the Saints targeted his high left ankle sprain.
"I felt like it kind of got overboard," Peterson said at the time. "I got up and kind of got in his face. Thank God I was able to keep my composure."
The Saints denied Peterson's claims.
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