Update: Jonathan Vilma responded to the suspension handed down by the NFL for his role in the Saints bounty scandal.
In a series of tweets by Albert Breer, a reporter for NFL.com, Vilma is quoted as saying, "“I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game."
NEW ORLEANS — Two months after the NFL unloaded the results of a lengthy investigation into a pay-for-performance program run by the Saints, the league unleashed its penalties for the players involved.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire season, effective immediately, while defensive end Will Smith will miss the first four games of the 2012 season. Additionally, former New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove is suspended for the first eight games and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita is out for the first three.
Hargrove now plays in Green Bay while Fujita is with the Browns.
“In assessing player discipline, 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,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league’s release.
Vilma, Smith, Hargrove and Fujita have three days to appeal their suspensions, a process that would end with Goodell hearing their pleas before determining whether to reduce the penalties or not.
The NFLPA issued a statement saying it is still awaiting evidence from the league.
"After seeing the NFL's decision letters, the NFLPA has still not 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 NFL said the evidence it found was “based on extensive documentation and interviews with multiple sources.” NFL Security, many of whom have formerly worked for the FBI, worked with forensic analysts, the league said, adding that the facts have been “part of the public record for two months and have not been disputed by the team or the individuals involved.”
In the initial report, the NFL said 22 to 27 players were involved in the pay-for-pain program. The names of those who participated but were not suspended were given to the NFL Players Association
“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Goodell said. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
Vilma put up $10,000, according to the NFL, for anyone to knock of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in the 2009 NFC divisional playoff game. A week later, he did the same for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC championship game, the NFL said multiple sources confirmed.
Smith, meanwhile, put in significant amounts into the pool, all while he was a defensive captain, the NFL report said.
The player penalties were the final domino to fall in an investigation that began following the 2009 season and didn’t conclude until today.
On March 2, the NFL released its initial findings, including explosive allegations of Saints players and coaches adding $1,500 for knockouts and $1,000 for “cart-offs” to a pool of money.
In that release, the NFL said then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams added money to the kitty himself while at the same time running the system, which at one point reached nearly $50,000. Two weeks later, on March 21, the NFL suspended head coach Sean Payton for a full season, hitting general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six. Williams was suspended indefinitely.
The Saints franchise also was docked the second-round pick in this year’s draft as well as next year’s and was fined $500,000.
Appeals from Payton, Loomis, Vitt and the franchise were denied by Goodell.