New Orleans Saints  

 

Goodell doesn't budge on Saints' punishment, sends message

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt will serve their suspensions as originally cast by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, it was announced Monday. The Saints also won't have second-round picks for the next two drafts (though the 2013 forfeiture could change to a later-round pick) and will have to pay the $500,000 fine, all punishment for the bounty scandal.

Their appeals to Goodell last week didn't change his mind. Few thought the commissioner would budge and his rubber-stamping of the severe discipline proved this final gasp for a reprieve came too late.

Goodell sends clear message

Goodell made an even more authoritative statement with this rejection of the appeals. If the league comes asking questions, it isn't doing so on a whim. Its investigation will be thorough and conclusive before it acts, initially. Only staggering new information will cause it to change its mind on appeal.

Goodell also showed the broad authority of which he's been empowered. To some, especially the NFL Players Association, it's too much power. Maybe so, but everyone knows his reach. They also know his intent, especially on issues of player safety. He has sent a strong message that is a baseline for everyone to understand. If people don't understand the message they only have themselves to blame.

Goodell originally wanted to hear their honesty, contrition and plans moving forward during the NFL's investigation, which started after the Saints championship run in 2009-2010. Instead, Goodell said he was repeatedly lied to and misled. Coming clean now can't make up for declining multiple opportunities to do so in years past.

It's also too late to claim that former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was a rogue coach, an accusation Vitt's attorney, David Cornwell, made last Thursday after Vitt's 90-minute appeal hearing with Goodell. The league knew Williams was the bad guy in all this. That's why he has been suspended indefinitely.

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Everyone else failed to stop Williams, tried to cover up what was going on and assumed things wouldn't get as ugly as they got. Even after the league warned them they were being watched, the Saints continued the program.

The explosive audio tape of Williams telling players to target other players' injuries was little more than public confirmation of what the NFL already knew. The tape might have been new, but the information wasn't. In fact, the NFL said its investigation proved Williams and players offered money for what Williams described in the audio tape. There was no sound of that during Williams' rant before this season's playoff game against the 49ers.

The info the league had was worse than what we heard.

With things unfolding as expected, at least we know where everybody stands, for the most part. Payton is out of work beginning April 16 and can't return until the completion of the Super Bowl. Loomis and Vitt can carry on through the offseason with their eight- and six-game suspensions, respectively, starting the first week of the regular season.

The decision to appeal did work to some degree. By Payton getting the start of his suspension pushed back to April 16, he bought himself just more than two weeks to help the Saints get things in order before he has to divest himself. New Orleans also could recoup its second-round pick in 2013, although it would be at the expense of a later-round pick. That is a win.

All the individuals could also get some financial relief.

These stipulations all come with the caveat that those involved remain on good behavior, don't attempt to breach the terms of their suspension and get involved in outreach programs to dissuade coaches and players from bounties and targeting opponents for injury.

Player suspensions coming soon

The next step will be penalizing the 22-27 players cited in the league's findings. League officials have said punishment will be harsh, largely because players were the ones who primarily funded the bounty pool.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was singled out in the league's investigation for offering $10,000 in bounty. A suspension of Vilma is expected, with the Saints safeguarding themselves by signing three linebackers in free agency, including former Falcons' tackling machine Curtis Lofton, who plays the same Mike linebacker spot as Vilma. Fines likely will be doled out, as well, for most of the players found to be involved.

That ruling is expected between now and the beginning of the draft (April 26). The league likely won't taint the positive event that is the draft with this type of news, so that judgment could come sooner rather than later. That is probably best for the Saints at this point. New Orleans needs to make its next move and having knowledge of where things stand should help.

Next step: Interim coach

The chatter about Bill Parcells stepping in for Payton died down last week, but it could heat up again with this snuffing of appeals. A source with knowledge of the situation said there are still numerous factors in play that seemingly would make Parcells a long shot -- but it can't be ruled out.

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Loomis and team owner Tom Benson will make the decision on who to hire -- not Payton, who can only recommend who takes the reins. They could feel more comfortable promoting offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who took over play-calling duties for Payton last season when Payton sustained a knee injury.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who served as head coach of the Rams the past three seasons, could step in, but he's too new to a well-structured situation and could have a style that doesn't mesh with what Payton has in place. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is another option.

Carmichael has a relationship with quarterback Drew Brees, whose unsettled contract situation is a potential powder keg in this whole mess. Though Carmichael likely would run the offense whether Parcells or anyone else is the interim coach, Brees' comfort level with whomever is in place can't be overstated.

The Saints also would have to comply with the Rooney Rule, interviewing a minority candidate for the job before anyone could be hired. There also is the possibility that Vitt could still be named as Payton's fill-in. He could run the offseason program, mini-camps and OTAs during the summer and turn things over to Carmichael or someone else until his return for the seventh game of the season. That isn't ideal cohesion, but it might be the Saints' Band-Aid solution.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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