The Saints are reeling after being stunned by the severity and scope of the "bounty" punishment dealt to them by commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this week.
They still have to wonder what Goodell might next have in store for them.
Suspensions to head coach Sean Payton (one year, beginning April 1), GM Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games), the loss of two second-round picks and a $500,000 fine were the first wave of discipline handed down from the league. Player sanctions will likely be the next one to hit the beleaguered club.
All indications are the Saints had not anticipated the level to which the league would go with its penalties. Goodell could surprise again. He has said he will address sanctions separately for the 22-27 defensive players involved in the bounty program that was administered from the 2009-11 seasons and is "profoundly troubled" that players "embraced this program so enthusiastically."
Sources around the league have said the Saints are better-built to absorb the suspensions to their head coach and general manager than the vast majority of teams because of the talented and experienced personnel they have on the coaching staff and in the front office. It was a significant hit to have Vitt, the Saints' assistant coach who was first in line to step in for Payton, get suspended, but there’s a feeling inside the organization that they have built a team capable of rising to meet those challenges.
No one knows when or for how long some of the defensive players on that team will be available next season, though.
Lengthy suspensions to multiple key players on defense could be the biggest blow to the Saints’ chances of having some semblance of a successful season in 2012.
There is no clear timetable for when the team should expect to learn of the player sanctions, but the league’s finding that the team captain, MLB Jonathan Vilma, offered $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game would indicate that Vilma will be among the players facing the harshest discipline. That explains why the Saints signed ex-Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton to a five-year contract Saturday. Vilma is the only Saints player named in the report released earlier this week, but he probably won’t be the only Saints player facing punishment when Goodell announces his decision on the players involved.
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