New Orleans coach Sean Payton was reinstated following a season-long suspension for operating what the National Football League said was a bounty program that paid players for injuring opponents.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out player suspensions in the case on appeal last month, placing blame on the team’s coaches and front office.
Payton said in a statement today that he and the team’s general manager, Mickey Loomis, “take full responsibility for all aspects of our football program.” He also said he had assured the current commissioner, Roger Goodell, that the team will be “more diligent” about player safety.
“I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations,” Payton said.
The NFL had said that about two dozen Saints players, led by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, paid each other as much as $1,500 from 2009 to 2011 for trying to injure players such as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.
Current and former Saints players and coaches said that a performance pool existed to reward defensive plays such as hard tackles. They have denied that money was used as an incentive to intentionally injure opponents.
Goodell chose Tagliabue, 72, his predecessor, in October to hear the appeals after his original penalties were thrown out by an arbitrator who ruled the commissioner had overstepped his bounds.
Tagliabue agreed with Goodell that Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith engaged in detrimental conduct and said a fourth player, Scott Fujita, didn’t take part in the bounty plan.
His decision to lift the suspensions applied only to the players. The full-season ban of Payton and the indefinite suspension of Williams remained in effect.
Payton is now free to return to the team, while Williams will be considered for reinstatement if he finds another job in the NFL. Today’s action means Payton also will be allowed to attend the Super Bowl championship between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers at the Superdome in New Orleans on Feb. 3, the NFL said in a statement announcing his to return.
“Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension,” Goodell said. “More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety.”
Payton signed a five-year contract extension through the 2017 season. ESPN reported on Dec. 29 that the coach will receive more than $8 million per season, making him the NFL’s highest-paid coach. The cable network cited a person in the league who requested anonymity.
Since being hired by the Saints in January 2006, Payton, 49, has led the franchise to a 62-34 record, three division titles, four postseason appearances and a Super Bowl championship after the 2009 regular season. The Saints finished 7-9 this season.