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Goodell's memo to clubs regarding bounty suspensions

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By PFW staff

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 clubs explaining his decision to reaffirm player suspensions from the Saints' bounty program. Here is the text of that memo:

“The discipline being imposed today is entirely based on my finding that the players engaged in conduct detrimental, and in no way based on any issue of undisclosed payments in violation of the salary cap.

“Our investigation disclosed nearly two dozen players who either contributed to, or received money from, the pool operated by the Saints’ defense. The four disciplined players either were involved in specific bounties on an opposing player, contributed substantially to the bounty program, engaged in payments that violated League rules, or were untruthful when the program was initially investigated.

“As reflected in the letters issued today, after careful review of all of the testimony, statements and documents in the record before me, having met with the players, as well as with Coach Williams, Coach Vitt, and Mr. Cerullo, and having had an opportunity to assess the credibility of each, I have determined that all four players engaged in conduct detrimental and that all four should be suspended for varying lengths of time depending on their particular conduct.  Each has a right again to appeal his discipline. And if any player exercises that right, I intend promptly to hold a hearing as provided for in the CBA and to consider carefully, and with an open mind, any further evidence that the player brings to my attention. 

“It also bears mention that as leaders among the players, Messrs. Fujita, Smith and Vilma could have spoken up and perhaps prevented the program from being implemented. They recognized that participation in the program was voluntary, that the program included incentives for cart-offs and knockouts, and that players could decline to be involved.  (Indeed, Mr. Fujita’s defense is based almost entirely on his asserted refusal to participate in the program administered by Coach Williams.)  Yet these same player leaders did nothing to prevent cart-offs from being highlighted, praised, incentivized and rewarded.  They bear a particular responsibility for the risks that the program created for other players.

“We also conducted numerous additional interviews, including an interview of Coach Williams. At the time of that interview, Coach Williams had left the Saints and been hired by the St. Louis Rams.  At the outset of this interview, Coach Williams strongly denied the existence of any bounty program and vigorously defended the conduct of the Saints players and coaches. Only after a lengthy series of questions, including presentation of facts that established the existence of the bounty program, did Coach Williams ultimately acknowledge the bounty program and disclose its full scope. He did so without any knowledge, expectation, or consideration regarding any penalties that might or might not be imposed on him in the future.  Both he and Michael Cerullo, a former member of the Saints’ coaching staff, have provided sworn declarations confirming the central elements of the program.

“Importantly, at no time did Coach Williams exhibit any animus toward the Saints or its management, any of his former coaching colleagues, or any Saints player. No one has subsequently offered any reason why Coach Williams would testify falsely against his former players.  To the contrary, the players themselves have praised Coach Williams as a great coach, teacher, and motivator. In his testimony in the New Orleans federal court, Mr. Vilma described Coach Williams as ‘a great motivator . . . he did a lot for me.  He embraced me. . . . I think he’s a great coach.’

“The fact that the program offered financial incentive for cart-offs and knockouts of opposing players cannot be disputed.  Mr. Vilma and Coach Vitt each testified in federal court in New Orleans that cart-offs were part of the program.  Mr. Fujita confirmed that the players were told to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart these guys off’ the field.”

The memo also stated:

“Mr. Vilma confirmed that ‘cart-offs’ and ‘knockouts’ referred to hits or tackles that resulted in an opponent’s having to leave the game for one or more plays, and that a hit or tackle that resulted in an opponent’s needing smelling salts under a trainer’s care was eligible for a reward under the program. Coach Williams defined a cart-off as “a category of big hits that resulted in an opposing player leaving the game due to the hit (for example, having the ‘wind knocked out of him’ or being shaken up or injured in some other way) and not returning to the game for one or more plays.’

“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.  In those meetings, 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 tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play. Each of the players also denied one or more aspects of the earlier findings on which disciplinary action had been based.  With respect specifically to the term ‘cart-offs,’ the players claimed that it referred only to a play in which an opponent ‘had the wind knocked out of him’ and had to leave the game for ‘a play or two.’   

“The facts, however, conclusively undermine this characterization. For example, in a game between the Saints and the New York Giants in 2009, a Saints player earned a reward for a cart-off of Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who left the game with a shoulder injury.  After a 2010 game against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints defensive unit was commended for forcing ‘3 CART-OFFS! 1 already placed on I.R.!’  In that game, three Carolina players were seriously injured:  running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton, who were literally carted off the field with a head/neck and ankle injury, respectively, and quarterback Matt Moore, who was later placed on injured reserve, unable to return for the remainder of the season, with a torn labrum.  These all satisfied Coach Williams’ definition of cart-offs: ‘big hits that resulted in an opposing player leaving the game due to the hit (for example, having the “wind knocked out of him” or being shaken up or injured in some other way)….’  He added that ‘rewarding cart-offs and knockouts…could encourage players to injure opposing players [and] I now understand that someone could be seriously injured as a result….’

“In addition, sworn declarations of Coach Williams and Mr. Cerullo confirm that a specific bounty was placed on Brett Favre prior to the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season, as Coach Childress believed to be the case. Mr. Vilma has denied this, but I have decided that the record as a whole confirms that he made such a pledge.  I cannot see why either Coach Williams or Mr. Cerullo would independently attest to the pledge having been made if it were not made.  In addition, in denying that he made the pledge, Mr. Vilma told me that nothing unusual took place at the pre-game meeting the night before the NFC Championship Game.  That position is inconsistent with the statements of Coach Vitt, who told me that the defensive meeting the night before the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota ‘got out of hand’ and that a lot of pledges were made by players during that meeting. It is also inconsistent with Mr. Fujita having told me that many players pledged money for big plays at that meeting.”

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