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updated: 3/4/2012 12:20 AM

New Orleans will pay dearly for "bounty program"

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  • Saints  defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apologized for his role: "It was a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it" he said.

      Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apologized for his role: "It was a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it" he said.
    Associated Press

 
 

Call it karma or chalk it up to "What goes around comes around," but the New Orleans Saints are going to regret that they were stupid enough to allow their "bounty hunting" scheme to injure opposing players come to light.

No one should be na´ve enough to believe that similar "hit lists" don't exist on a lot of other teams. But, for the most part, those teams aren't foolish enough to allow their plans to become public.

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An NFL investigation revealed Friday that Saints defensive players and coaches engaged in an organized "bounty program," that rewarded players with $1,500 for knockouts and $1,000 for a cart-off of an opposing player.

Payouts, which were funded by the players, allegedly doubled and tripled in the playoffs, including the 2009 season that ended with the Saints hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

The practice of players kicking into an informal fund for teammates who knock key opposing players out of games has gone on since the days before leather helmets. But what makes the Saints' case especially egregious is that it was done with the involvement of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and with the implicit approval of head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis.

Coming as it did, from 2009-11, during a period in which the league was taking unprecedented precautions to prevent concussions and other head injuries makes the Saints' lapse in judgment even more ridiculous.

"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game," commissioner Roger Goodell said, "and this type of conduct will not be tolerated."

Williams' apology for his involvement is inexplicable.

"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," said Williams, who is now the Rams' defensive coordinator. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it."

Ya think?

Over the course of three years, Williams knew it was wrong but did nothing. His excuse is on the same level as a high school child telling a teacher that the dog ate his homework.

Retribution from the league is coming in the expected loss of multiple draft choices, possibly including a first-round pick, in addition to fines and suspensions. Even though the "bounty system" has always existed, it's significant to note that the NFL has never before considered it a serious problem to launch such an exhaustive investigation.

The Saints clearly took it to far.

But that's not all the Saints have to worry about.

There's also payback on the field, and if I were Saints safety Roman Harper, I'd watch my back. Harper's helmet to the chest of Earl Bennett sidelined the Bears' wide receiver for five weeks last season, and he was flagged for roughing the passer in that game.

Bounties were issued by the Saints for anyone who could knock quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner out of playoff games, and review of those films shows that the Saints succeeded in dishing out excess punishment to both future Hall of Famers.

Neither player is still active but both still have a lot of friends in the game, and they're probably not averse to exacting some form of revenge.

Again, getting after the quarterback, hitting him as often as possible and letting him know that he's gong to pay the price for hanging tough in the pocket is part of every game plan. That's especially true when the quarterback is a game-changer. The difference is, most teams attempt to do that from whistle to whistle.

Williams is on record as saying he would neither discipline nor criticize his players for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties -- unless they were stupid penalties.

I'm guessing Williams' definition of "stupid," has changed in the past couple days.

blegere@dailyherald.com

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