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?

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

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.

Five players that got shafted by Pro Bowl voting

It’s easy to sit here and play armchair Pro Bowl GM, and while indeed all of us have the ability to influence the player selections, that doesn’t mean as a collective group that we get it right. So as always, there were a few players, even after injury substitutions were announced, who are home this weekend instead of playing in the Pro Bowl in Miami—players who truly deserved a spot on the NFC or AFC roster. Here are a few glaring omissions as we see it:

Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals—For as good as the Bengals’ defense was in 2009, they won all those games early in the season in part because their running game was downright dominant. And a big reason for that was Benson, whose 96.2 yards per game was second only to Tennessee’s Chris Johnson. Benson, who just turned 27 in December, has been injury prone most of his young career, but this was by far his best season, and he even led the NFL in rushing for a bit before Johnson caught fire. Of course, Benson’s six touchdowns are probably what kept him out of the Pro Bowl (Maurice Jones-Drew had 15 and Johnson 14), but there is no question about how valuable he was to the Bengals, helping them to exceed all expectations.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers—With all due respect to every other QB in the AFC, how do David Garrard and Vince Young get in ahead of Big Ben? I can sort of understand Young, who took the Titans on his back and may have even warranted MVP consideration. But Garrard? Roethlisberger had 4328 yards, 26 TDs and 12 picks, while Garrard threw for 3597 with 15 TD throws and 10 interceptions. Of course, Ben also dealt with concussions, so I can understand an injury keeping him out, but he’s not listed with the injured players selected, so that means more people than not left him off the roster. Does that make sense to anyone?

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles—This one was purely a numbers game, because you absolutely can’t argue with Jason Witten and Vernon Davis getting in ahead of Celek. But that’s not his fault. Look, I’m a Giants fan so it’s not easy for me to admit this, but I love this kid as a football player. He’s tough, makes big catches with consistency, and is always open for Donovan McNabb in the end zone. He’ll also take a defender’s head off if they get in his path. Of course, Celek’s numbers were stellar too–he caught 76 passes for just under 1000 yards (971) with 8 scores. They should have allowed an extra NFC tight end just this once.

Andre Carter, DE, Washington Redskins—I get why Jared Allen and Trent Cole made the Pro Bowl roster, but I don’t get how Andre Carter missed out while Julius Peppers got in. Peppers has the name recognition, but Carter led all defensive ends in solo tackles (48) and had twenty more total tackles than Peppers (62 to 42). He had 11 sacks to Peppers’ 10.5, sure, but when you look at the whole picture, somebody blew an assignment. And the thing is, everyone talks about Albert Haynesworth, but Carter never gets the credit he deserves, not even on his own team.

James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams—I get why Jon Beason is the top dog at ILB for the NFC, and I also get why London Fletcher finally made the roster when Jonathan Vilma’s Saints reached the Super Bowl. I’m just not sure why rookie Laurinaitis didn’t make it in ahead of Vilma. Laurinaitis led all rookies in solo tackles with 107 (Vilma had 87), and in the NFL he trailed only Patrick Willis, Beason and Kirk Morrison in that department. Laurinaitis also had 2 sacks and 2 interceptions. This kid was a beast in the middle on a team that won only 1 game in 2009, and short of having to pay dues, I’m not exactly sure how he was left off the Pro Bowl roster.

Coaching staff not getting enough credit for Saints’ run at perfection

Do you know why the Saints are currently 13-0 right now? No, it’s not because of their high-powered offense, Drew Brees or their remade defense. It’s not because of their outstanding receiving corps, Darren Sharper’s playmaking ability or a trio of running backs.

Actually, it’s because of all those things. But one thing that seems to be taking a backseat in the Saints’ run at perfection is their coaching staff, and I’m not only referring to coach of the year candidate Sean Payton either.

There were two plays in the Saints’ 26-23 victory over the Falcons in Week 14 that had more to do with coaching and less to do with the players on the field.

The first play came early in the third quarter when the Saints were up 16-9. The Falcons had been getting pressure on Brees by sending multiple defenders throughout the game, and with the Saints facing a 3rd and 19 from Atlanta’s 21-yard line, the Falcons decided to blitz a bevy of players in order to disrupt the play. But the Falcons played right into Payton’s play call, because Reggie Bush took a 21-yard screen pass into the end zone untouched.

Read the rest of this entry »

Matty Ice is still learning

With how exceptionally well he played as a rookie last year, it’s easy to forget that Matt Ryan only has 24 career starts under his belt.

Ryan did some great things in the Falcons’ 35-27 loss to the Saints on Monday night, most notably throwing a 68-yard rainbow to Roddy White to cut New Orleans’ lead to 28-21 early in the third quarter. He also found White and Tony Gonzalez on some key third downs to keep the chains moving and leave the Saints’ dynamic offense on the sidelines for most of the second half.

But he also made some mistakes that second year quarterbacks are unfortunately prone to making. Things like zeroing in on Gonzalez or forcing a pass into a well covered White late in the first half that led to a huge defensive touchdown for the Saints. He also looked rushed in the pocket at times and took a couple of unnecessary sacks because he didn’t go through all of his progressions. For a young man who has built the reputation of having ice water in his veins, “Matty Ice” looked uneasy several times when the Falcons needed a big play in the passing game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Related Posts