Former New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper flatly denied the findings of an NFL investigation that claimed the team instituted a "bounty" program between 2009 and 2011, telling NFL.com on Friday that players never intentionally tried to injure opponents.
"I think this is something that, from when I got in the league in 1997, has happened thousands and thousands of times over," Sharper said about payments among players for big plays. "It's ridiculous that someone is trying to say that we made bounties on knocking guys out, when basically all it was is that when a guy gets an interception, then he might get paid. That's something that guys do amongst themselves."
Sharper painted a picture of how players regularly organize payments, amounting to sums such as $100, for big plays such as interceptions, sacks and turnovers, a custom he said is ingrained in the culture of the NFL.
"I know the commissioner is trying to take (out) all the performance-based pay, but that's something you're not going to prevent," Sharper said. "That's something that's just part of guys being guys and playing football."
Sharper didn't deny that Williams or the coaching staff was involved, saying players and coaches were a part of conversations about creating incentives for making big plays in games, because it contributes to winning.
But Sharper said the payments were limited to big plays, and there was never premeditated intent to injure opposing players.
"No, positively no," he said. "With an exclamation point. It's about making big plays in games."
Sharper, who joined the team in 2009 and played two seasons under Williams, said it wouldn't have been possible for such a "bounty" system to exist without his knowledge. When asked specifically about a Sports Illustrated report that the NFL's findings included the allegation that linebacker Jonathan Vilmaoffered defensive teammates $10,000 to knock then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Sharper said he wasn't aware of such an incident.
"Somebody would take that money and run out of the room," Sharper said. "I don't know about $10,000 being (offered). ... Nobody was throwing money down. That's ridiculous."
What bothers Sharper the most about the report, though, is the idea that the allegations started from somewhere within the organization.
"I'm actually appalled, because of the fact that someone within the organization that was part of my time there, the (year) when we were making our Super Bowl run, is basically trying to bring down that era," Sharper said.