Roger Goodell reinstated a season ban for New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma while cutting the penalties for two other players suspended in the National Football League’s probe of the team’s bounty program.
The sanctions replace ones thrown out last month by arbitrators who said Goodell overstepped his bounds by punishing the players for money they received outside their contracts. It said bans could be handed out for conduct detrimental to the league.
“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell said yesterday in a news release. “The players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”
The NFL said about two dozen Saints players, led by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, paid each other as much as $1,500 for targeting opponents such as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre from 2009 to 2011.
Coach Sean Payton was barred for a year and Williams was suspended indefinitely. Mickey Loomis, the Saints’ general manager, received an eight-game suspension. Those penalties were allowed to stand.
Goodell originally barred Vilma for a season, defensive ends Anthony Hargrove for eight games and Will Smith for four games, and linebacker Scott Fujita for three games. Fujita now gets a one-game suspension, Hargrove seven and Smith’s remains at four games. Vilma is barred for the rest of the campaign, though he is allowed to keep money earned since the original punishment was thrown out.
The NFL Players Association said it will review Goodell’s decision.
“For six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever,” the union said yesterday in a news release.
Saints interim coach Joe Vitt in July described the team’s pay-for-performance actions to a U.S. District Court judge in New Orleans as a practice in which players put up money for various defensive plays that help the team, such as a tipped ball resulting in an interception. If a player got a needless penalty, he could lose money for a penalty that hurt the team, Vitt said, calling it “fun-based performance.”
Vilma testified at the time that he never offered or received money for inflicting extra-violent hits on opponents. A former first-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2004, Vilma sued Goodell for defamation and filed a separate action against the league seeking to undo his ban. The NFL Players Association also sued to overturn the punishments of Vilma, Fujita, Hargrove and Smith.
The players in the Saints case were reinstated Sept. 7 after an arbitration panel ruled Goodell lacked the authority to impose discipline for unauthorized compensation, or money that might have been paid under the bounty plan. Goodell is allowed to punish players for detrimental conduct, such as the intent to injure opponents.