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?

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Why Sharper wasn’t wanted on the open market

One of the bigger mysteries of the NFL offseason is why safety Darren Sharper, who essentially transformed the Saints’ defense last year with his playmaking ability, didn’t receive more attention on the open market. Even at 34, Sharper proved last year that he still has plenty of game left in his veteran legs.

But according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Sharper had limited market value because he had microfracture surgery, which is believed to have taken place in early March. The procedure was originally announced as an arthroscopic surgery, which is much less serious than microfracture.

According to Schefter, Sharper’s status for Week 1 is in jeopardy and he may be limited in training camp. Combine that little fact with his age and it’s no wonder Sharper lasted so long on the open market before re-signing a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.

I’m a little surprised that Sharper expected to sign a lucrative long-term deal knowing that his status for Week 1 was up in the air. Parlaying a great season into a new contract is one thing, but hoping to cash in big despite being a 34-year-old safety coming off major knee surgery is another.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

The Saints are playing Sharper perfectly

When it comes to old fashion standoffs, the Saints are taking it to free agent Darren Sharper.

After racking up 71 tackles and nine interceptions (including three INTs for touchdowns), it was apparent last season that Sharper hadn’t lost a step, which is why he wanted to parlay his 2009 season into a big pay day this offseason. He took a modest deal last year to sign with the Saints, but wasn’t about to do it again with those numbers.

The problem is that the Saints knew Sharper had to have arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, thus limiting his worth on the open market. The team also knew that he would love to re-sign with them, but that he was also looking for more money then the team was willing to spend on a 34-year-old safety. So what do they do? They made him another modest offer (details haven’t been released yet, but an offer is on the table and it must be modest because Sharper hasn’t signed it yet) and are now banking on him not finding a better deal anywhere else.

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Darren Sharper upset with Saints

Darren Sharper, who is an unrestricted free agent, is a little miffed after the Saints told him that they wouldn’t use their franchise tag on him this offseason.


“They said they want me back, but if you want someone back, why are you going to let them test the market?,” Sharper said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I don’t know how much they want me back if they’re allowing other teams to bid for my services. Being in this situation before, if a team is willing to let you test the market, they’re willing to let you go.”

Sharper did say that he hopes things will work out with the Saints, but also noted that he won’t come as cheap as he did last year ($1.7 million). He didn’t have many suitors last offseason, but he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season and says that he has “a couple of good years” left in him.

Personally, I think Sharper is being a little too sensitive here. Had the Saints used their franchise tag on him, they’d have to pay him $6.455 million next season, which is way too much – even for a player as productive as Sharper was. It’s not that they don’t want him back, they just don’t want to pay a 34-year-old safety over six million when he was clearly motivated last year while playing on a one-year deal. It just doesn’t make much sense financially.

Chances are, Sharper will wind up back in New Orleans as long as the Saints offer him a fair deal. Like Sharper said, he knows the system and the Saints were much more successful with him in their defensive backfield than they were without him. But he has to step into their shoes and understand that they’re not going to shell out upwards of $6.5 million to retain an aging safety.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Super Bowl XLIV Preview: 5 Potential MVPs not named Manning or Brees

As part of our ongoing coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, here are five potential MVP candidates outside of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

1. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Wayne only caught three passes for 55 yards in the AFC title game, but that was because he was locked up with stout corner Darrelle Revis, who has a habit of limiting a receiver’s impact. But Wayne caught eight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in the Divisional Round and Revis won’t be anywhere near the field come Sunday. Wayne has five 100-plus yard receiving efforts this season and one more could earn him the Super Bowl’s highest achievement (outside of a ring of course). He only caught two passes against the Bears the last time he played in the NFL title game, but they went for 61 yards and a touchdown. If his quarterback doesn’t yank the award away from him, then Wayne could be taking home the MVP hardware come Sunday night.

2. Marques Colston, WR, Saints
In an era dominated by diva receivers, Colston is one wideout that is easy to root for. He’s quiet, unselfish and brimming with talent. He’s also reliable and if he gets enough opportunities, he might explode on Sunday and earn the MVP award in his first ever trip to the Super Bowl. In the Divisional Round, Colston hauled in six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, and seems to save his best performances for top competition. In Week 6 of the regular season against the Giants, he caught eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, and in Week 12 against the Patriots he hauled in four passes for 121 yards and a score. Even in a losing effort against Dallas in Week 15, he caught five passes for 86 yards, including a 35-yard strike that led to a Saints’ field goal early in the second quarter. Outside of Brees, the only reason Colston might not have a fair opportunity to win the MVP award is because he’s on a team that is loaded with other receiving weapons. This is where the aforementioned unselfishness comes in, because there’s no doubt that Colston would rather catch one pass for 10 yards and win, than catch 10 passes for 150 yards and lose.

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