|Williams says Jonathan Vilma (left) offered $10,000 to knock Brett Favre out of a game in 2009. (US Presswire)|
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, in a signed affidavit turned over to the NFL as it prepared for its meeting with suspended "Bountygate" players, gave a lengthy statement on the origins of the Saints' pay-for-performance program, which he testified preceded his arrival in New Orleans in 2009, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Williams did admit to subsequently revamping the pay-for-performance program, but said it did not put bounties out to injure opposing players within it, that no money was ever exchanged within that program for penalized hits, and Williams also noted that when linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any teammate who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game, it was done outside of the pay-for-performance system.
Nowhere in the lengthy testimony is Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, one of the suspended players, ever named, the source said, and Williams pointed out that the program did not make payments for illegal hits or on-the-field misconduct.
According to Williams' statement, a devastating hit that was illegal, and penalized, would never have resulted in a payment from his pay-for-performance program, even if it qualified as a "cart-off" hit. Furthermore, the former New Orleans defensive coordinator asserted in the document that even if the team felt the play in question was not a penalty, or even if the NFL league office later notified the Saints that the play was a blown call, no payments would be made as, in fact, players were penalized for penalties.
If the Saints lost, he testified that no payments were ever made for any plays occurring in that game and no individual players were ever targeted within that program.
Before securing this affidavit, the NFL did not have any signed statement from Williams, according to sources, and its evidence in this case has been called into questions by players and coaches, while a federal judge in Louisiana indicated strong reservations about the penalties commissioner Roger Goodell handed down.
With its meetings with the players looming, the league, through lawyers, went through a process of securing the document from Williams, with the process playing out over the weekend.
Sean Payton, the Saints' suspended head coach, was not contacted about agreeing to an affidavit, according to a league source. Former Saints employee Mike Cerullo also contributed an affidavit to the league, according to a league source.
Vilma (one season), Fujita (three games), Saints defensive lineman Will Smith (four games) and free agent Anthony Hargrove (eight games) were all suspended by the NFL as part of what the league called a bounty program in New Orleans, while Williams was barred for at least one season. Payton was suspended for a season and general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for half a season.
Vilma spent roughly three hours meeting with NFL officials today and the other three players are scheduled to discuss their suspensions, recently "vacated" by an appeals panel, with the league on Tuesday.
Within his testimony, Williams admitted to not being truthful in his initial remarks when the NFL began investigations allegations of bounty claims, which Williams says in the affidavit were originally brought to his attention by Loomis, who told the coach a Vikings player had heard about a potential bounty on Favre.
According to the affidavit, Williams says Vilma addressed the team at a meeting before that championship game, with players and coaches present, and pledged the money for knocking Favre out of the game. Generally money for the pay-for-performance was collected within a "kitty," but Williams told the league he was never given money for any pledge related to a "specific player," and as Favre was not knocked out of the game, Williams "assumes" no money was paid.
Williams' statement indicates that there was already an established pool when he was hired by the Saints, and said he took it over to make it more orderly and to use it to motivate and incentivize his unit, as the Saints had been lagging on defense for quite some time before his arrival. The funds, according to the testimony, were held in a box and participation was never mandatory; individuals could choose whether to participate.
In 2009, defensive captains Vilma and Smith "endorsed the program," according to the testimony, made initial contributions to the kitty and additional funds would come into the pool as players were subject to financial penalties for penalties, missed opportunities to make a big play, mental errors, etc. Players received payments for sacks, interceptions, fumbles caused, interceptions caused, defensive touchdowns, etc.
Williams also testified that payments were made for "big hits" or "whacks" -- and defined them as hits that caused an opposing player to leave his feet. Within the affidavit, Williams said he could not recall the exact time when "cart-offs" and "knock-offs" were added to the list of payments and testified he could not recall the exact difference, but that he believed that a cart-off would knock a player from the game for one play, and a cart-off would keep them out longer.
Williams said cart-offs were the most highly rewarded, and amounts due or owed were announced at teams meetings, with blank envelopes available for those who owed.
Williams testified that he regrets his actions and came to understand how payments for cart-offs could lead to more injuries. He asserted he never intended to cause someone to be injured, and admitted the program "is not part of the game."
Goodell was asked to "re-determine" his rulings on the players based on an appeal panel's conclusions about his powers vis-a-vie certain areas of the collective-bargaining agreement. That panel "vacated" the suspensions 10 days ago, pursuant to Goodell making his redetermination, and league sources anticipate Goodell making his new recommendations for discipline shortly, likely by next week, following his meetings with the players.
Sources close to the suspended players, and NFLPA sources, have indicated that short of Goodell drastically altering his original discipline, they anticipated appealing back to the panel and are also considering going back to a federal court in Louisiana, where they were seeking an injunction against the suspensions.
Vilma has also sued the commissioner for defamation of character, and other players involved in this case are mulling lawsuits as well, sources said, pending the outcome of Goodell's review and recommendations.
Through its investigation, the league came to realize that pay-for-performance programs that rewarded extra money for sacks, interceptions and the like are not endemic to the Saints, and teams had to vow to eliminate any such programs moving forward or risk major penalties.