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NFL comes down hard on Saints, Williams

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By PFW staff

The punishment for the Saints' "bounty" program includes a one-year suspension without pay for head coach Sean Payton, the NFL announced Wednesday.

Payton's suspension begins on April 1.

The league notified the team Wednesday of the discipline for violating the NFL's "bounty" rule over the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

The Saints were also fined $500,000 and will forfeit their selections in the second round of the 2012 and 2013 drafts.

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised."
 
"A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious," Goodell continued. "When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game."

The league also announced GM Mickey Loomis is suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt will be suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season.

Former Saints defensive coordinator and current Rams defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who administered the "bounty" program, is suspended indefinitely from the NFL, effective immediately.

Goodell said he will separately address sanctions for players and others involved in the bounty program.

"While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players — including leaders among the defensive players — embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players," Goodell said. "While all club personnel are expected to play to win, they must not let the quest for victory so cloud their judgment that they willingly and willfully target their opponents and engage in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players."

Coaches can appeal suspensions, but none of the suspended coaches have indicated that they intend to do so.

In its press release Wednesday, the NFL said the bounty program included payments for "knock-out" and "cart-off" plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game. At times, the league said, the bounties targeted specific players by name, including QBs Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner.

The NFL cited "a deliberate effort to conceal the program's existence from league investigators, and a clear determination to maintain the program despite express direction from Saints ownership that it stop as well as ongoing inquiries from the league office."

Goodell met with many of the key individuals involved in the investigation, on multiple occasions in some cases, and discussed the situation with the leadership of the NFL Players Association and individual players after the league first announced the investigation on March 2.

The league also looked into allegations of bounty programs with other clubs, but said "no evidence was established showing that the programs at other clubs involved targeting opposing players or rewarding players for injuring an opponent."

As for the Saints' ownership, the NFL reported that there is no evidence the team's ownership had any knowledge of the bounty program or that any club funds were used for the program. 

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