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Payton: 'I will be more vigilant' after Saints 'bounty' scandal

Sean Payton apologized Friday for the bounty scandal under which New Orleans Saints players were offered payouts for big hits on opponents, saying he takes "full responsibility" for the system that operated for three years under his watch.

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"I share and fully support the league's concerns and goals on player safety. It is, and should be paramount," Payton said in a statement released by the team. "Respecting our great game and the NFL shield is extremely important to me.

"Our organization will implement all necessary protections and protocols, and I will be more vigilant going forward. I am sorry for what has happened and as head coach take full responsibility. Finally, I want to thank Mr. Benson, our players and all Saints fans for their overwhelming support."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday suspended Payton without pay for the 2012 season, effective April 1, one of several unprecedented penalties he issued against the team and its officials.

The NFL said the Saints' "bounty" program offered improper cash bonuses for blows that either knocked targeted star players out of the game or left them needing help off the field.

The NFL has said Payton initially lied to NFL investigators about the program, at first denying its existence, and also instructed his defensive assistants to lie. The league also slapped an eight-game suspension on general manager Mickey Loomis and a six-game suspension on assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers.

Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, ran the bounty program and has been suspended indefinitely. Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

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The NFL has said the bounty program started in 2009, Williams' first season, when the Saints also won their only Super Bowl title. The league also found that the program continued through 2011 even after NFL officials told the Saints to check into it and put a stop to it if they found anything improper.

The NFL has said punishment for players who participated in the bounty program will come later, meaning the Saints also could see some defensive regulars suspended. The league has said between 22 and 27 players participated in the program, which usually paid hundreds of dollars but sometimes thousands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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