Gregg Williams’ bounty program is the problem – not his locker room speech

Imagine for a moment that you knew nothing about the Saints’ “bounty program” or the fact that players and coaches were providing monetary motivation to injure opponents.

Does Gregg Williams’ locker room speech still sound horrifying to you?

One of Kyle Williams’ brothers is a friend of mine so when Gregg Williams started talking about testing “little No. 10’s” concussion, I cringed. My heart dropped. The specific manner in which Williams was discussing the Niners’ players and their injuries was downright disturbing.

But most of what Williams said can probably be heard in football locker rooms around the country every Saturday and Sunday. (Maybe even on Friday nights, where prep action dominants the newspapers.) Right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust, a lot of Williams’ speech can be chalked up as “football talk.”

What Williams said about Frank Gore was hardly unnerving. “Kill the head and the body will die” is a phrase. When he says, “We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head,” he might as well said, “We’ve got to take Gore out of the game,” which nobody would have had a problem with. (And most people would have understood, seeing as how Gore was the key to San Francisco’s success on offense.)

“We want him running sideways,” and “We want his head sideways” are hardly shocking statements either when you keep it in the context of a football coach telling his football players to make sure the opposing running back runs east and west instead of north and south. Again, had Williams used different phrases to get the same message across, then his speech wouldn’t have been as jarring to people.

My problem isn’t so much with Williams’ poor choice of words but with his actual bounty program. Players get paid enough money to go out and inflict pain on one another – it’s unnecessary and almost cruel for a coach to be offering monetary motivation to target their opponents’ specific injuries. It’s ridiculous to pony up extra cash in order to motivate a grown man in the best shape of his life to go onto a field with the sole purpose of targeting an opponents’ knee or head. That’s not football. That’s not sport. That’s not playing for the love of the game or in the spirit of competition. That’s just inhumane.

That’s when I feel for Kyle Williams, Michael Crabtree and the rest of Gregg Williams’ bounty program victims. That’s where I draw the line and say, hey, what’s going on here isn’t right. Could Williams not have delivered such an unsettling speech? Sure, but that’s simply a matter of semantics.

Outside of the specific comments about Williams’ head or Crabtree’s ACL, it’s not Williams’ words that are so much the problem, but the manner in which he tried to execute them.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Four key takeaways from the Saints’ “bounty program” punishment

On Wednesday the NFL suspended New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton for one year and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams “indefinitely” for their roles in the team’s “bounty program.” General manager Mickey Loomis was also suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 NFL season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of next season, and the team will lose its second-round pick in 2012 and its second-round pick in 2013. Below are four key takeaways from this scandal.

Goodell was harsh because he was lied to.
Remember back in 2007 when Roger Goodell threw the book at Michael Vick after the quarterback pled guilty to federal dog fighting charges? Part of the reason why Goodell was so harsh was because Vick admitted that he provided most of the money for the gambling side of the “Bid Newz Kennels” operation. But Goodell also dropped the hammer on Vick because the quarterback lied to his face about being involved with the scandal. The same thing happened with the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton lied to Goodell, Gregg Williams lied to Goodell, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt lied to Goodell. If the commish has taught us anything since he assumed office on September 1 of 2006 it’s that the NFL his league and he will go to extreme measures to protect its integrity. I fully admit that I was surprised by the rulings but once the league had enough evidence to convict the Saints of wrongdoing, you figured Goodell was going to rule with an iron fist. And I think it’s telling that Payton’s suspension doesn’t begin until April 1 when all NFL coaches have to attend a meeting on Monday for a coaches’ breakfast with the media. Think Goodell wants to send a message to Payton by having the suspended coach have to face the media that day?

Here’s the difference between the “bounty program” and “Spygate.
Five years ago the Patriots were found to have been videotaping the signals of opposing teams. Goodell fined Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the club $250,000, took away the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2008, and then had all of the documents from the scandal destroyed. As we came to find out, Belichick had been taping opponents’ signals since his days as a head coach in Cleveland and the “only” punishment New England received was essentially the loss of $750,000 and a first-round pick. So why did Goodell come down harder on the Saints than he did on the Patriots? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, Goodell had just taken over as commissioner of the league when he doled out the punishment for the Patriots so he was still green at that point. It’s also widely known that he and Bob Kraft are very tight, so he wasn’t going to stick it to his buddy. But the biggest difference between the two, at least in my eyes, is that “Spygate” didn’t cost the league a dime. For the past three years Goodell has tried to make the NFL a safer game. And with more and more lawsuits emerging from former players, he has to be able to walk into a courtroom and say, ‘Hey, we’ve done everything we could to make our game safe.’ That message is awfully hard to convey when one of your coaches has a program in place to reward his players for taking out certain opponents. Not only did this bounty program scandal tarnish the league’s reputation and integrity, but it also had the potential to hit the NFL’s wallet down the line…repeatedly. And Goodell simply can’t have that.

This is only the first wave of punishment.
If you’re wondering why none of the Saints players have been suspended but their coaches and general manger did, just wait. This is more than likely just the first wave of punishments that Goodell will hand out. As the reported leader of the bounty program, Jonathan Vilma will probably receive a stiff punishment and you have to believe others will face discipline as well. It wasn’t just Vilma carrying out Williams’ “orders.”

Don’t make Shockey out to be “Deep Throat.”
As ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas points out, the NFL started investigating the Saints when they tried to take Brett Favre’s head off during the NFC title game in 2009. Tight end Jeremy Shockey, whom Warren Sapp said “snitched” to the league about the program, was playing for the Saints at the time. While Shockey may have ultimately told the NFL what he knew about the bounty program, he isn’t the reason the Saints eventually were investigated. Thus, there was no “snitch” here and for what it’s worth, Shockey has denied Sapp’s claims on his Twitter page.

Report: Drew Brees “livid” about franchise tag

A New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees reacts after walking off the field after a three-and-out against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Banks Stadium in Baltimore on December 19, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

WIST-AM New Orleans is reporting that Drew Brees is “livid” about being franchised tagged and will not sign his tender.

Drew Brees is “livid” about being franchise tagged and not receiving a long-term contract, according to WIST-AM in New Orleans. The radio station cites sources in the Brees camp that he will not sign the franchise tag deal. Brees and the Saints have until July 15 to hammer out a long-term deal. If a deal isn’t struck, Brees must sign the franchise tag deal or hold out.

Brees doesn’t seem like the type to be “livid” about anything, so there’s a chance that this report isn’t accurate. But if it is, how bad could things continue to get in New Orleans?

I don’t think there’s a chance in Hades that the Saints don’t figure out a way to lock up Brees long term, but they’re facing some major issues right now. They’re currently awaiting punishment from the league for their “bounty program” fiasco, their best offensive lineman (Carl Nicks) and No. 1 receiver (Marques Colston) are about to hit the open market, and Brees’ contract situation is a mess. They’re even scheduled to work out Randy Moss on Tuesday for cribs’ sake.

The Saints have been a NFL powerhouse for the last three years but their roster could look very different come next fall. Don’t forget that along with Nicks and Colston, Robert Meachem is also a free agent and there’s talk that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be released. The team did well to hire Steve Spagnuolo to replace Gregg Williams as their next defensive coordinator but their linebacker corps remains weak and outside of Will Smith, the cupboard isn’t exactly stacked with quality pass rushers.

Things will eventually start to stabilize again in New Orleans. But by that point, will they have forked over a couple of draft picks and watched some of their top players depart in free agency?

Is the Saints’ “bounty program” issue being overblown?

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) is swarmed by New Orleans Saints defenders during the first quarter of their NFL football game in New Orleans, Louisiana November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

ESPN’s John Clayton believes that the Saints’ “bounty program” is worse than Spygate. His colleague Ashley Fox writes that Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis deserve to be fired.

Others have stated that the program is a moral or ethical issue. They want to see Gregg Williams and Gregg Williams-types abolished from the game.

But the last time I checked, it’s not illegal to hit an opponent so hard that he gets carted off the field. It’s not illegal to put a shoulder pad into an opponents’ legs and force them from the game with an injury. Quarterbacks and ball-carriers know they’re going to be hit. It’s not like they signed up for beach volleyball and are now shocked that 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive ends are coming to take their heads off.

It’s apparent to me that what’s wrong about the “bounty program” is the under-the-table compensation. NFL bylaws state that there are to be no non-contract bonuses and that, my friends, is the root of the issue. Everything else just makes for one dragged-through-the-mud discussion.

What’s funny is that defensive players are paid millions of dollars every year to hit, tackle, and otherwise inflict pain on opponents throughout the NFL season. Now some are up in arms because several Saints players were trying to knock Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game. If those people were being honest with themselves, they’d admit to not being upset about the act as much as they are with the monetary motivation. If the Saints didn’t have a bounty program in place and Darren Sharper came out after the game and said, ‘We were trying to take Brett Favre out. We knew we had to get to him in order to beat them,’ his comments wouldn’t be that jarring. Heck, what he said may have even been acceptable to some people who demand that the players they root for be tough and ferocious. But because there was bonus money in play, hey, now it’s an issue of ethics.

Look, I’m not trying to make light of the situation. Let me state for the record that I believe Williams’ program was wrong and that the Saints should be punished. Football is a violent game but the NFL has rules and Williams and the Saints broke one. Thus, if Roger Goodell wants to hinder other teams from using similar programs by taking away draft picks and suspending the men involved, then so be it. As a lifelong Falcons fan, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing the Saints lose a couple of hundred draft picks over the next 10 years. (Maybe then Atlanta could finally shrink the gap between itself and New Orleans on the field.)

But if anything, this situation should be more embarrassing and ridiculous than one that needs to be sensationalized as an issue of moral fiber (or lack thereof). Think about it: the NFL and NFLPA are constantly trying to come up with new ways to make the game safer but in the meantime, their own players are putting bounties on one another. How undeniably absurd.

Furthermore, how stupid do these players have to be to participate in a program that could wind up costing them more in the long run? If I were a Saints player that saw Jonathan Vilma slap $10,000 on the table while stating “This goes to the man that takes out Brett Favre,” I would tell him thanks but no thanks. If he asked me why, I’d point out that fines for late hits range anywhere from $7,500 to $50,000. Thus, the math doesn’t add up.

Why not play the game aggressively and violently, and then let the chips fall where they may? Why even have a “bounty program?” I would think that being able to play the game legally for millions of dollars would be all the motivation that these athletes needed not to want to hurt one another. After all, isn’t the NFL supposed to be a brotherhood? I’m shocked somebody hasn’t told Williams that playing the game aggressively yet legally while trying to win was all the motivation they needed.

At the end of the day, a coach and his players decided to provide extra motivation for one another by coming up with an illegal program to reward themselves for hurting opponents in an already violent game. While other players and teams might have their own bounty programs in place, the Saints were the ones who were caught and now have to be punished. Even though the Saints wound up winning the Super Bowl, the entire thing was unnecessary and hopefully Williams sees the error in his ways.

Other than that, why inflate this situation into something bigger than what it is?

Former DC Gregg Williams, Saints in hot water over “bounty program”

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams watches his team prepare for their NFL football game against Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Louisiana January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the New Orleans Saints are potentially facing discipline from the NFL because of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ “bounty program,” which was designed to pay players for taking out certain opponents.

According to Schefter, the league’s investigation began in 2010 when members of the Saints’ defense began targeting opposing quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. One of the main culprits in the “bounty program” was middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who allegedly put $10,000 in cash on a table and said, “This goes to the guy that knocks out Brett Favre.”

Williams, who is now the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, had this to say in wake of Schefter’s report:

“I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.”

The NFL’s investigation concludes that in some cases, “the amounts pledged were both significant and directed against a specific opposing player.” Four former Redskins players, including defensive end Phillip Daniels, told The Washington Post that Williams had a similar system in place when he was Washington’s defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2007. Former Redskin Matt Bowen even stated that he didn’t regret taking part in the program because, “You do what he (Williams) wants: play though, push the envelope and carry a swagger that every opponent sees on tape.”

It has been reported that head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis knew about the bounty program but failed to stop it when directed to do so by team owner Tom Benson. ESPN’s John Clayton now speculates that the Saints will face a hefty fine as well as a loss of “multiple draft choices,” and it has also been rumored that Vilma (who is due $5.4 million in 2012) will be a salary cap casualty this offseason.

It’s realistic to believe that Williams and the Saints aren’t the only coaches/players that have a “bounty program” in place to injury fellow opponents. But that doesn’t make the situation just. In fact, it’s rather embarrassing for the NFLPA that they continue to battle the NFL for better medical benefits when their own players are putting up massive amounts of cash in order to hurt each other.

Related Posts