The penalty phase is looming, and it doubtless will be far more odious than the penalties incurred by Bill Belichick and the Patriots for stealing signals a couple years ago, to date the most severe penalties for any team infraction. To refresh you, Belichick was fined $500,000 while the team was fined $250,000 and a No. 1 draft choice. Do not consider that the floor, but the sub-basement when you look at what Goodell levies against the Saints.
The trigger that makes these offenses even more egregious is the recent sentiment in the commissioner’s office that player safety is the league’s top concern, and any suggestions that players or coaches are offering incentives to injure other players violates that movement. Offenders or even perceived offenders will be dealt with harshly. Therefore, I have come to several conclusions with regard to the looming penalties. I hope it is not as severe as I believe it will be, but there is no doubt that everyone who touched this polecat will come out smelling bad.
The most grievous penalty will be a one-year suspension for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has left a trail of similar offenses from Buffalo to Washington to Tennessee. For anybody to believe his half-hearted admission that he was “caught up” in such a system is laughable. Wherever he has been, a bounty system has been in place. He is the Godfather of Bounties.
Head Coach Sean Payton will be suspended for four games and fined $500,000, because the offenses occurred under his watch by one of his hires. He is responsible for his employees, and anything they do to violate the rules taints him. General Manager Mickey Loomis will be fined $250,000 primarily for the league’s contention that he was told by owner Tom Benson to stop the bounty program, and he did not do so. Personally, I have known Loomis for nearly 30 years, and I find it difficult to believe that he would not follow the boss’ orders.
Having dispensed with the individual fines, the club fines will be just as severe. I predict that Goodell will force the Saints to give up their #2 and #5 draft choices in the upcoming 2012 draft, plus the No. 1 pick in 2013. That is the part that Saints fans will feel the most. The club has been effective at producing starting players from draft choices, and the elimination of top picks the next two years could affect the competitive aspect. I do not believe Goodell wants to cripple the team’s chances in 2012 or beyond, but I believe the perceived offenses are severe enough that he believes he has been put into a corner where he must establish a precedent for the unborn. In other words, clubs or players who see these penalties will think twice before replicating the offenses.
Finally, 22 of 27 players on the Saints’ defense the past three years have been fingered, according to the NFL, which suggests fines are in order. Again, in the sense that I do not believe Goodell wishes to cripple the Saints’ competitive ability in 2012 that he will issue blanket suspensions on current players. He will, however, fine a number of players and possibly might suspend the more high-profile offenders, such as Jonathan Vilma, who allegedly offered $10,000 to the teammate who “took out” Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC championship game. Whatever the penalties, I believe most Saints fans have the resiliency and the devotion to their team to say “Get it on. Give us the sentence, and we will respond accordingly.” And that would be a good thing for the team and the league as they go to Palm Beach this weekend for the annual meeting.
by Jim Miller
Jim Miller is a former journalist (Baltimore Sun), NFL executive (Saints, Bills and Bears) and college athletic director (University of New Orleans). See Jim's unique perspective of sports and more on his website: www.JWMillerSports.com.