Bounty Allegations Bring Ex-Saints Aide Williams to NFL Meeting

Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams
Gregg Williams, seen here whilst defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. Photographer: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The coach at the center of an alleged program to pay bounties for injuring opposing players is to tell his story today to National Football League officials.

Gregg Williams probably will be asked to discuss his involvement in alleged violations of the league’s bounty rules while he was on the coaching staffs of the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, ESPN reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.

Williams, now defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, may also meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York, the sports network said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the report.

The NFL has increasingly handed out fines and suspensions for illegal hits over the past three seasons. Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was suspended for one game last year for his fifth illegal hit on a quarterback over that span.

Harrison said yesterday on his Twitter account that we’ll see “how concerned the NFL is about player safety when they decide what the punishment for the Saints is.”

The NFL said on March 2 that the Saints’ bounty pool was set up by Williams and may have reached as much as $50,000 during the 2009 playoffs, which culminated in the team’s first Super Bowl title. Between 22 and 27 unidentified Saints players were involved in the program during the past three seasons, with as much as $1,500 paid for a specific hit, the NFL said.

Goodell’s Concerns

Goodell called the payments “particularly troubling” and said he’d meet with the players’ union before determining discipline for the Saints and those involved.

Williams said in a statement that the bounties were a “terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”

Disciplinary measures from the NFL may include suspensions of a half-season or longer, the Washington Post said yesterday, citing an unidentified person familiar with the deliberations. The newspaper also said the NFL plans to investigate claims of a bounty program during Williams’s tenure as the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2007.

The investigation into the Saints began in 2010, when the league heard the team was targeting Pro Bowl quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The investigation found that Saints players and at least one coach regularly contributed to a pool and received money based on their performance in the previous week’s game. Payments were received for interceptions and fumble recoveries, as well as for injuring opposing players.

Rules Violation

NFL rules prohibit players from receiving added pay for performance against particular teams or opponents, or for on-field misconduct such as injuring opponents or personal fouls, according to a memo Goodell sends each year to all 32 teams.

“It’s a whole dark side of the game,” former New York Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who retired in July because of knee injuries, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a stain on the NFL as far as its integrity. When these guys feel like they can take the rules into their own hands -- what does the NFL have to do?”

Saints players were paid $1,500 for a “knockout,” in which an opposing player was unable to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart off” in which an opponent was carried off the field, the NFL said in a release. Payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs.

Former Buffalo Bills safety Coy Wire told the Buffalo News yesterday that there was financial compensation for delivering hits that injured opposing players when Williams was the Bills’ coach from 2001 to 2003.

Career Ends

Wire cited a career-ending shoulder injury he inflicted on Detroit Lions running back James Stewart with a legal hit during a 2003 preseason game.

“I was showered with praise for that,” Wire told the Buffalo News. “It’s a shame that’s how it was. Now I see how wrong that was.”

Former Redskins safety Matt Bowen wrote in a column for the Chicago Tribune that “bounties, cheap shots, whatever you want to call them, they are a part of this game.” He said the pool of money to pay players for big hits was collected throughout the season from player fines.

Jenkins said he wasn’t aware the targeting of opposing players was going on in the NFL.

“If I would have taken rules into my own hands I would have been a monster,” Jenkins said.

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