The NFL Players Association released a statement Wednesday saying it wants "sufficient time" to do its own review of the league's report that the New Orleans Saints had a "bounty" system in place from 2009 to 2011.
One of the NFLPA's goals is to find out whether Saints coaches and management engaged in "coercive activities" to pressure players into participating in the program. An NFL investigation found defensive players were rewarded monetarily for making big plays and trying to injure opponents.
The NFLPA cited admissions by Saints management and coaches that the pay-for-performance program existed as evidence "they engaged in improper and coercive activities."
New Orleans coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis issued a joint statement Tuesday acknowledging and taking full responsibility for the violations. Former Saints and current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the central figure in the bounty scandal, also admitted to his role in wrongful activity via a statement released by the Rams Friday.
The NFL declined to respond to the NFLPA's Wednesday statement.
A league source said the NFL's investigation into the matter is ongoing. The NFLPA also asked the NFL to facilitate interviews with current and former Saints employees. Because both things will take time, it is unknown if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will administer discipline before March 26, when league meetings begin in Palm Beach, Fla., as had previously been reported.
The NFL has not set a timeframe for deciding on penalties. In addition to Saints management, the league's months-long investigation implicated between 22 and 27 players.
Whatever punishment comes down is expected to be severe, possibly including fines, suspensions and the loss of draft picks. The league cited Payton, Loomis, Williams and the Saints with "conduct detrimental" to the NFL's constitution and bylaws. It also faulted them for failing to stop the bounty activity and allowing it to happen in the first place, as well as failing to fully cooperate with the league's initial investigation in early 2010.
A league official said involved players will also face serious punishment.
Goodell has stressed safety during his time in charge, fining and suspending players for failing to comply with the league's policies. Rules have been changed or more strictly enforced to prevent violent and dangerous hits in an effort to preserve players' short- and long-term health. The issue was also central to last summer's labor dispute between players and owners.
The NFLPA said that if it finds that players willingly participated in "conduct that jeopardized head and safety," it would work with the players and the NFL to put in place additional safeguards to prevent such behavior in the future.
"Dangerous play and acts on the field by players intended to injure have no place in football," the statement read. "We must do better to ensure that this activity is not a part of our game."