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Saints were warned about bounties before playoff game with Lions

Commissioner Roger Goodell says at NFL's annual meetings that he had sent representatives to address the issue with New Orleans owner Tom Benson and send a final message.

March 26, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference at the New Orleans Saints training facility in Metairie, La., before the bounty program came to light.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference at the New Orleans… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The final warning to the New Orleans Saints about bounties came in January, just before their first-round playoff game against the Detroit Lions.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell detailed the situation Monday at the conclusion of the first day of the annual meetings at the Breakers hotel. He slammed the Saints with heavy penalties last week, including a one-year suspension of Coach Sean Payton and an indefinite suspension of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was rewarding New Orleans players with $1,000 if an opponent was carted off the field, and $1,500 for delivering a knockout blow.

Goodell said he sent the league's top lawyer, Jeff Pash, and the league's security director, Jeff Miller, to New Orleans to meet with Saints owner Tom Benson the day before the Saturday playoff game.

"The point was to make it clear to him that we had new and credible information that a bounty program may exist, and that he should make it extremely clear, beginning with the game the next day, that there should be no bounty system in place while our investigation continues," Goodell said. "We do not want to put our players at risk, and that was the message.

"Our point was, if there is one, you'd better make sure it's not in effect."

Benson addressed his fellow owners Monday and was "very open," said Goodell, who added Benson "expressed his disappointment with the club, and it's not what he's all about. He expects to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure it never happens again."

Payton can appeal the suspension and probably would be able to continue working in the interim, the commissioner said, although the appeal and decision would be expedited. The deadline for an appeal is April 2. The suspension begins April 1.

There are multiple reports that the Saints are considering former NFL coach Bill Parcells as a one-year replacement for Payton. However, Goodell said that the team would have to comply with the "Rooney Rule" if it goes outside the organization to fill the job, meaning at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for the vacancy.

The second phase of the punishment process is levying penalties against the players involved, among them team captain and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who offered $10,000 to anyone who was able to knock Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 season's NFC championship game. Favre took a beating but finished the game.

Goodell said he's waiting for the NFL Players Assn. to finish investigating the situation and make its recommendations about punishments. The league said there were 22 to 27 players involved in the bounty program.

Thinking blue

The NFL is watching the sale of the Dodgers closely for a couple of reasons: One, if Rams owner Stan Kroenke has the winning bid, that will raise cross-ownership issues; and two, the league still considers Chavez Ravine a prime site for an NFL stadium.

Goodell said that if Kroenke's bid proves to be the winner, "then we would immediately move with our committees to have our discussion with our membership. We'd move as quickly as possible, knowing that it's an important issue for baseball."

The league doesn't want its owners competing with each other for sports dollars in the same city. Therefore, an NFL owner can also own, say, an NBA franchise in the same city, but not in another NFL city — or, in the case of L.A., a potential NFL city. Kroenke would need an owner-approved waiver from the league to own the St. Louis Rams and the Dodgers.

As for Chavez Ravine, Goodell said: "We've often said that that's an extraordinary stadium site up at Dodger Stadium, and it's something that we were interested in going back into the '90s."

In fact, when former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley was pushing for an NFL stadium there in the late 1990s, his plan was to hire Goodell as the team's general manager. O'Malley abandoned the stadium plan when informed by city officials that they were supporting an NFL bid by the Coliseum.

Unlikely partners

The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have challenged the league's agreement with the players' union to set the salary cap for 2012 and to reallocate some of the salary-cap room of Dallas and Washington to 28 other clubs.

The penalty to those two teams would be to address competitive issues arising from the way those two teams handled their contracts during 2010, the uncapped season. The league wants to charge the teams $46 million in cap space over the next two seasons — $18 million per year for Washington, $5 million per year for Dallas. The Saints and Oakland Raiders wouldn't be part of the redistribution because, according to the league, they "engaged in similar contract practices in 2010 at a far different level."

The situation will be arbitrated by University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank.

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