NEW YORK -- Former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the central figure in a pay-for-performance "bounty" scandal, met with NFL security Monday after reports emerged this weekend about him being involved in similar practices when he coached in Washington and Buffalo, according to a league source.
'Bounty' litigation could be tricky
For all the talk of litigation, both criminal and civil, legal action might be a reach, according to Tulane Law professor Gabe Feldman. Proving that players actually tried to hurt opponents in the course of a game when big hits are the norm could derail a criminal conviction or civil award, but that doesn't mean someone won't file charges or lawsuits, said Feldman, Director of the Tulane University Sports Law program.
When Williams acknowledged he was a participant in the "pay for performance" program and declined to stop it even though he knew it was wrong, he cracked the door open for potential lawsuits, Feldman said.
"Williams' admission would certainly make it easier for a plaintiff to bring a civil case against him, because the plaintiff would not have to prove the existence of the pay-for-play scheme," Feldman said via email. Feldman highlighted some difficult obstacles that remain:
» Can the plaintiffs convince a court to interfere with the internal governance of the NFL?
» Can the plaintiffs convince a jury that pay-for-play hits are not part of the game (and thus could give rise to liability because the players did not consent to them)?
» Can the plaintiffs convince a jury that the players actually acted differently (hit harder, tried to injure, and so forth) because of the pay-for-play plan?
» Will a jury be able to distinguish between injuries that were caused by pay-for-play hits and those that were just part of the game?
The meeting was not held at league headquarters in Manhattan and did not include Commissioner Roger Goodell or any non-security league employees.
After the league issued a report regarding its finding in the player-funded program in which monetary rewards were provided for knocking opposing players out of games and having players carted off, Williams admitted to his role while also apologizing to Saints officials and the organization. Published reports then surfaced including quotes from former players claiming that similar "bounty" programs were in place when Williams coached in Buffalo and Washington, spurring the league's summoning of Williams to New York.
A league source said that while Williams is the central figure in this case, the Bills, Titans and Redskins are not being investigated. However, the Saints are very much in the crosshairs of discipline from Goodell. An initial investigation was thwarted by coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, Williams and players, only to be re-opened when new evidence surfaced, showing that this practice involved up to 27 players and was in place from 2009 to 2011.
The stonewalling of the original investigation will also impact punishment of the Saints, as will other patterns of behavior that one league official termed as "arrogance." The Saints could have draft picks taken away and fines levied, while suspensions for Payton and Loomis could be in order. Discipline will be harsh.
Goodell is expected to penalize those involved before the league meetings in Florida in late March.
A league official also said that players will not be absolved of punishment, especially because, in New Orleans, the money that went into the "bounty" pool mainly came from the pocketbooks of players. The NFL is not pleased with the players -- ranging from 22 to 27 over a three-year period -- and will treat them accordingly.
Saints owner Tom Benson also is in position to discipline Payton and Loomis. The league found that Payton knew of the bounty program but did not act to stop it. According to the NFL's report, Benson told Loomis that if a pay-for-performance program was in place, he needed to end it, only to have that request dismissed by Loomis.
Other than a statement from Benson acknowledging the league's report and saying the Saints would cooperate, the team, Payton and Loomis have been quiet about the situation.
The Rams also declined to comment on Williams' status with the team, saying they would prefer to wait until Goodell decides on disciplinary measures. Should Williams be suspended, the Rams could have assistant head coach Dave McGinnis or secondary coach Chuck Cecil take over as defensive coordinator.
McGinnis served as defensive coordinator with Arizona before taking over as head coach from 2000 to 2003. Cecil was the defensive coordinator for the Titans under coach Jeff Fisher from 2009 to 2010.