NEW YORK – Steadfastly maintaining that the Saints did have a system whereby players were given financial incentive to injure opposing players, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued his suspensions for four current and former players Tuesday.
Goodell did somewhat relax the penalties on the suspended players, except for Will Smith. Former Saint Scott Fujita had his suspension lessened from three games to one; while former Saint Anthony Hargrove had his knocked down by a game from eight to seven and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, while still suspended for a season, will receive pay for the time he has spent on the physically unable to perform list. Smith’s suspension remains at four games. He has played in the Saints first five games this season and may be able to continue to play depending on the result of court appeals.
Goodell re-issued the suspensions after an appeals panel asked him to clarify if previous penalties were about conduct detrimental to the game or about salary cap issues surrounding the alleged payments.
Goodell said Tuesday that the suspensions were for detrimental conduct.
“In my (recent) meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” wrote Goodell. “The players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere factor’ and have their opponents carted off the field…”
The players, who previously had sought relief in the courts, are expected to head back there again.
The NFL also shared letters sent by the commissioner to each of the disciplined players.
In a lengthy response letter sent to Vilma, who received the harshest penalty, Goodell said that at their recent meeting, Vilma confirmed that cart-offs and knockouts were part of a program in place for Saints defensive players.
“I also find that you engaged in conduct detrimental by offering a substantial financial incentive to any member of the defensive unit who knocked Brett Favre out of the Saints’ 2009 NFC playoff game against the Vikings.”
Goodell also said there was evidence that Vilma had made a substantial financial offer to injure Cardinals’ QB Kurt Warner in a playoff game the week before.
Goodell’s note said that former Saints coaches Gregg Williams and Mike Cerullo – in separate interviews – volunteered that Vilma offered a $10,000 reward for those actions. Goodell cited the fact that both men gave the same exact number as reason for believability.
In the letter to Fujita, Goodell said he had not found that Fujita directly contributed money to the bounty pool, but, that as a team leader he was told of the program by Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams prior to the 2009 season.
“I am surprised and disappointed by the fact that you, a former defensive captain and a passionate advocate for player safety, ignored such a program and permitted it to continue,” said Goodell.
Goodell also said that Fujita admitted to running his own rewards program, separate and apart from Williams’, in which he paid or offered to pay teammates for ‘big plays’ such as forced fumbles or sacks.
A letter to Hargrove stated that the main reason for his now seven-game punishment was for lying to an NFL Security representative who questioned Hargrove about the program.
Smith was told that his punishment involved his endorsement and contribution of money toward a program that encouraged players to cause cart-offs and knockouts.-->