Four Saints players have been suspended by the NFL, with Jonathan Vilma receiving the harshest penalty. Vilma will be out for the entire 2012 season without pay.
In its investigation the NFL said Vilma pledged $10,000 in cash to any Saints player who knocked former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 divisional playoff game involving the teams and then repeated the pledge for Brett Favre in the NFC title game. Vilma, also is alleged to have helped Williams create and fund the program.
Saints defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for four games. According to the report Smith helped former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams create and fund the bounty pool when he was a captain of the defense.
Former Saint and current Cleveland Browns LB Scott Fujita was suspended for three games. The league said Fujita pledged "a significant amount of money" to the Saints' bounty program.
Former Saint and current Green Bay Packer DL Anthony Hargrove has been suspended for eight games. Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the NFL not only that the Saints' bounty program existed, but that he was an active participant in it.
Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect.
Each player disciplined today is entitled to appeal the decision within three days. If an appeal is filed, Commissioner Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.
ESPN's Adam Shefter reports that all four player suspensions will be appealed, and according to an NFL source, "get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."
"It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced," Commissioner Goodell said. "Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field."
"In assessing player discipline," Commissioner Goodell said, "I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation."
The NFL Players Association released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it still hasn't received "any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program."
"We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf," the NFLPA said.
The punishments come after Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season.
General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the season and assistant coach Joe Vitt suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season.
The New Orleans Saints were fined $500,000 and forfeited their selections in the second round of the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts.
Former Saints (and current St. Louis Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL.
Until this investigation began, the Saints had high hopes for a season which will culminate with the Super Bowl in New Orleans. But, after months of speculation and uncertainty, they can finally move forward with the knowledge of which coaches and players will be with the team and which ones won't. There is also the matter of Drew Brees contract negotiations which remain ongoing and are keeping the elite quarterback out of off-season workouts.
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