|"When you start jeopardizing people's future ... you're taking it to a whole other level," Clay Matthews said. (AP)|
On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions for New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, assistant coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis for their roles in the Saints bounty scandal. The damage: Payton will miss a year, Vitt six games, and Loomis eight games. The organization will also be fined $500,000 and lose their 2012 and 2013 second-round picks. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was painted as a "rogue coach" after a damning audio recording emerged last week, was suspended indefinitely.
Next up: Goodell will levy sanctions against Saints players involved in the bounty scheme.
Supporters of the Saints have made "the NFL is punishing New Orleans for something every team does" argument, which was similar to justifications put forth by Patriots apologists during Spygate. Former New Orleans safety Darren Sharper went so far as to suggest that "Hopefully there aren't any fines or suspensions. I don't think that suspensions, fines are warranted."
During a roundtable discussion on Wednesday's NFL Total Access, three current players -- Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware and Clay Matthews -- weighed in on the Saints scandal.
"I've heard of (payouts for) interceptions, tackles inside the 20s on kickoffs, different things like that," Welker told NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano, "but I've never heard of trying to take guy's ACL's out or concussions or anything like that. So that's definitely something I've never heard of."
Ware, who makes his living for the Cowboys sacking quarterbacks (he has 99.5 since 2005), said that he's never had a coach tell him to target an opponent with the intent to injure them.
"As a player you're not trying to go out to hurt somebody. You're just going out to make a statement. … I've never had a coach say something like (what Williams told his team). … You can talk about interceptions and fumble recoveries … but not go after the head or ACL."
Matthews, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Packers, admitted that coaches try to motivate players but made the clear distinction between "get after it" rah-rah speeches and what Williams was guilty of.
"When you start jeopardizing people's future and their livelihood, I think you're taking it to a whole other level," Matthews said. "It's unfortunate because I think at the end of the day we're able to put into perspective and we're just happy to walk off the field wins or losses aside."
Welker, who suffered an ACL injury in 2009 with the Patriots, said "It was definitely shocking," to hear Williams tell his defense to target Michael Crabtree's ACL in that ill-fated audio recording from January of this year. "I would never wish an ACL (injury) on my worst enemy," he said.
The league has come down hard on the Saints but Goodell isn't done. There are the impending player sanctions, not to mention the lost draft picks. And New Orleans also needs to re-sign their best player, quarterback Drew Brees, who sounds uninterested in playing on the one-year franchise tag but thinks a long-term deal is in the offing, and more than that, the Saints will thrive in 2012.
"Our organization, whenever we're hit with something, any kind of adversity, we have guys that step up and fill the void, take on more responsibility and really thrive," Brees said earlier this week. "We did that last year, and whatever is thrown at us this year, we'll continue to thrive."
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