Since those penalized are NFL employees, they fall directly under Goodell's purview. They can appeal, but that is unlikely because all have had their day in court, and apparently they all perjured themselves when NFL investigators initially asked them about the existence of an incentive program that would pay for injuries to opponents. It is appropriate that the media has been calling this scandal Bountygate, because the appellation was first coined when President Richard Nixon lied when asked if he knew his operatives had broken into Democratic Party headquarters in Washington's Watergate Hotel. Those lies forced the first U.S. President in history to resign from office, while the Saints' lies forced the first NFL head coach in history from office. How many times have we told our kids that punishment for doing something wrong won't be half as bad as punishment for lying about it?
If the Saints penalties announced Wednesday aren't bad enough, the repercussions could be worse and far-ranging. Loss of two second-round draft choices will have minimal effect, but what is the feeling of free agents who saw the Saints as an attractive option? We will find out soon enough, as the Saints have a handful of unsigned players, and they have hosted a busload of candidates. Will they sign any of them amid this uncertainty?
Despite all the bad news that we know about or expect, the most important question to be answered is how does this action affect Drew Brees' thinking? He can take one of two courses. First, he could replicate his role in helping bring a city back from the greatest natural disaster in history, which he and his teammates did winning a Super Bowl three years after Katrina. Likewise, he could be instrumental in bringing the franchise and city back from the shame of Bountygate. He could put his lingering contract talks behind him and either sign a new contract, or even the franchise tag, and report to off-season workouts on time to help rally the troops. He would lead by the example he has created and declare that whether you agree with the penalties or not, those are the cards we have been dealt. New Orleans is accustomed to being an underdog, and right now we are underdogs to salvage a respectable season. Sometimes victory is sweeter when you are not expected to prevail.
OR ... Brees could take another path down a darkened lane that has no happy ending. Already angry at being slapped with the franchise tag after his agent and Loomis could not reach a long-term deal, he could declare he is not going to sign the franchise tag. With Payton, his offensive mentor, suspended for a year and team management in chaos, he would not report to off-season workouts. That action would compound an already terrible situation throughout the summer, and the team would deteriorate without its leader.
Brees' actions over the next few weeks will determine if he reinforces his current stature as team leader and franchise savior or if he becomes a surly malcontent who wants out on the next Brinks truck. Brees did not ask for this situation, which is far worse than anybody expected. But when you understand that the Saints did it to themselves by piling a cover-up on top of a blatant rules violation, Goodell's punishment is more easily understood.
by Jim W. Miller