For nearly two months, Saints fans and the players they love have pleaded for the NFL to release information it had on the alleged bounty program.
The fans wanted evidence that the team they love more than life itself at times was doing something as heinous and devious as the NFL said it was doing.
The players wanted the smoking gun information in the 18,000 or so documents the NFL combed through to be shown because they didn’t believe the evidence existed.
There’s a phrase folks like to use in scenarios like this: Careful what you wish for.
Only, in this case, that might not apply.
While those who follow the Black and Gold always felt like Goodell was being more vindictive and using circumstantial evidence to nail the Saints and suspend coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a full season and general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, others weren’t so sure. To the rest of the country, up until now, the Saints were guilty before being proven innocent.
Certainly the NFL is under no mandate to release information, but what has been released thus far has painted the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell in a light that is completely different than on March 2 when the explosive investigation was unleashed on the world.
The Anthony Hargrove declaration, leaked earlier this week, does not come off nearly as strong as the NFL made it sound, though it’s still bad. Nowhere in it does Hargrove admit to having participated in a bounty program nor does he say the Saints had one.
His declaration says only that he was instructed to deny that one existed. Some may cry semantics, saying denying knowledge of the program after being told to deny it is akin to lying.
But this declaration has no admission of guilt in it.
The timing of Hargrove’s declaration, coming on April 13, nearly six weeks after the original release of information and three weeks after the coaches were penalized, doesn't help the NFL.
In the NFL’s release when it suspended the players on May 2, it said Hargrove’s declaration “established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it.” Hargrove’s declaration came only two weeks prior to that, not prior to the March 2 release, making the NFL’s use of it as a smoking gun dubious.
Additionally, the NFL’s release goes on to say that “evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team” about a bounty on Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre.
In fact, Hargrove’s declaration says nothing of the sort, mentioning only that Williams said that “some people thought that I had told Vikings player Jimmy Kennedy about the existence” of one. Hargrove never says in the declaration he told Kennedy about a bounty on Favre.
Then there’s the email from marketing agent and Saints confidante Mike Ornstein to team public relations magnate Greg Bensel, which was forwarded to coach Sean Payton. In the email, which the Associated Press obtained Thursday, Ornstein wrote, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic).”
Ornstein claims that sentence was a joke, one that started after the 2010 NFC championship game when the Vikings claimed the Saints had a bounty on Favre. For those who know Ornstein – and the NFL certainly does – that’s actually believable, even if he is a two-time convicted felon.
Again, the email isn’t a smoking gun.
The NFL isn’t looking good right now.
Certainly the league tried to show in its March 21 release that they had all they needed to convict, stating throughout that Williams and Vitt acknowledged the program and admitted they tried to cover it up.
Those are serious allegations, none of which either have denied, the closest thing coming from Vitt, who said, “at no time did any of our players ever cross the white line with the intention of hurting another player. Now, that being said, I’m serving a six-game suspension for the spoken word, not the clenched fist.”
Still, the time has come to make evidence public, evidence that would confirm undeniably to anyone that the Saints went as far as alleged, even if they’re not required to.
Until that happens, the NFL and Goodell are going to be forced to answer questions about just how open and deep their investigation into the Saints was.