Saints owner's bond with GM, coach said to be strong as ever

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson isn't backing off his support of his general manager and coach, even as his team is accused by the NFL of maintaining a "bounty" program to injure opponents.

While Benson cooperates with NFL officials in their investigation of the alleged program that spanned the last three seasons, he is standing behind general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton -- even though the league says they knew about the bounties.

"The bond between Sean and Mickey and Mr. Benson could not be stronger," a team official told The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing. "(Benson) is 110 percent behind his guys."

The NFL investigation found between 22 and 27 defensive players on the Saints, as well as former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, maintained a "bounty" system for inflicting injuries on targeted players.

Former defensive coordinator Williams has admitted to running the pool, and the NFL's investigation concluded that Loomis and Payton did nothing to prevent it, even after Benson was alerted of the pool by the NFL last year and asked Loomis to put a stop to it.

"The team completely understands the ramifications, is taking the matter very seriously and has cooperated fully with the league," said the Saints official. "Mr. Benson is in constant contact with (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and his office, yet he remains steadfast in his support of Mickey and Sean, and his focus is on the upcoming free agency, making the team better and hosting the Super Bowl. ... We have a lot of positive things on our plate that we have to get working on."

Williams, who was summoned to New York on Monday to meet with NFL officials, called his role in the pool a "terrible mistake" when he issued a public apology late last week.

Loomis and Payton also have not commented on the probe.

Punishments are expected within two weeks, and they could suspensions, fines and loss of draft picks.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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