New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the 2012 season, the NFL announced Wednesday, as it handed down player discipline for the team's pay-for-performance "bounty" scandal.
Three other players -- Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith -- also were notified that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the "bounty" program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009 to 2011.
"It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field."
The discipline breaks down as follows:
• Vilma is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions.
• Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games.
• Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games.
• Smith, still with the Saints, is suspended without pay for the first four games.
The players are expected to appeal the punishments and will have three days to do so.
"In assessing player discipline," Goodell said, "I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation."
"No bounty program can exist without active player participation," Goodell added. "The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur addressed Fujita's suspension later Wednesday.
"We will respect the commissioner's decision," Shurmur told The Plain Dealer.
On April 16, sources close to the linebacker told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that Vilma was bracing himself for a suspension ranging anywhere from two to eight games.
Vilma was the only Saints player involved in the "bounty" scandal to see his name released to the public after the details emerged of a program in which then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams orchestrated a pay-for-performance system that rewarded players for cart off and knock-out hits.
Williams already has been suspended indefinitely by the league, while Saints coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 season and general manager Mickey Loomis will miss the first eight games of the season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, suspended six games for his role in the scandal, will serve as the team's interim coach in Payton's absence.
According to a Sports Illustrated report from March, Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock out then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game. During that game, Favre endured a number of gruesome hits, and he suffered a nasty ankle injury late in the game.
The Saints spent a portion of their offseason bolstering their linebacker corps, possibly in preparation for Vilma's punishment. The Saints signed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton away from the Atlanta Falcons in March and later added former St. Louis Ram Chris Chamberlain.