|Does all of this evidence add up to an open-and-shut case for the NFL? Not necessarily. (Photo: CBSSports.com)|
It's time to take a close look at all of the evidence in the Saints bounty case. An extremely close look.
I took all of the exhibits turned over to the union – 16 in all – and gave them grades, Pete Prisco style.
My belief has long been that the league has the goods on players but is keeping the best stuff under wraps to protect the identities of informants. I still believe this.
And remember: the league got a great deal of its information from Gregg Williams and Williams has yet to refute anything the NFL has said about him.
But I also cannot argue with the Saints who believe the league hasn't just failed to make its case, it exaggerated it.
The grades are based solely on proof of a bounty system in which Saints players were paid to injure with ‘A' being explicit proof and ‘F' being no proof at all.
There were no A's.
There were lots of F's.
Exhibit 1: These are the transcribed handwritten notes. The NFL won't say the source. They are dollar amounts assigning, for example, $2,000 to Jonathan Vilma and $5,000 to Mike Ornstein. The total is $11,500.
The problem is: we don't know the source of this information. And since we don't know the true source, the information is extremely questionable.
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Exhibit 2: This is the Mike Ornstein e-mail to Williams. It reads: “D—khead I gave you 1500 last week, I will give you another 1500 the next 4 game, and the final 2000 the last 4.”
The NFL says this e-mail corroborates other evidence that proves a bounty system was in place. Despite Ornstein now saying the e-mail was a joke, which is a joke in itself, this e-mail is actually somewhat compelling.
Ornstein wrote this e-mail believing no one would ever see it. And what exactly is that money for? Groceries.
Exhibit 3: Almost all of this exhibit is absolutely worthless. The NFL says one piece of it, a listing of dollar amounts, is proof of a bounty system, and is corroborated. But it really proves nothing.
Exhibit 4: More of the same.
Exhibit 5: This lists the various Saints players and money amounts they earned and had deducted for various hits, plays and errors and contains language like “whacks.” This evidence is actually compelling because it contains this: “Harper =cart-off 1000.”
Harper would be safety Roman Harper. The union says cart-off doesn't actually mean what it sounds like it means. They say it means hard hit but that's peeing on my head and telling me it's raining. Cart-off means freaking cart-off.
But the rest of the exhibit proves nothing so it's a highly mixed bag.
Exhibit 6: Almost identical to five. The NFL says these exhibits are proof of dues paid into a bounty system. They say coaches told them this, among others. But this exhibit doesn't prove that and doesn't contain the vital cart-off language that would demonstrate the Saints were trying to injure.
Exhibit 7: Is an envelope with handwritten notes. It has notation that says Vilma received $400 for two whacks minus $200 for a mental error with the words “gave back to kitty pool.” This is again proof that something was being funded but no proof of a pay to injure scheme.
Exhibit 8: Most of this exhibit is of the Saints' defensive schemes and some fiery lingo. There is mention of “kitty” money but, again, no proof of pay-to-injure.
Exhibit 9: More motivational stuff (“stop the f------ run!”). But there is something important in this exhibit. Listed are the 2010 “kill the head” totals. It's a simple column that has player names and then the phrase “kill the heads” with numbers underneath. Vilma, for example, had 62 kill the heads.
The union says “kill the head” is hyperbole and goes back to language used by some of the great defensive Saints teams in the 1990s. But again, this makes no sense. Kill the head means kill the head. It means Williams was instruction players to hit the head. It's common sense. It's good information but since there are no money amounts listed as well it's not rock solid proof of a pay-to-injure plan.
This is also the exhibit that contained the Dog the Bounty Hunter photograph. While that's funny, and ridiculous, it's also an interesting choice. Saints players and coaches say there was no bounty program, no semblance of one, not even close. But if there wasn't, why use a bounty hunter as a symbol?
Exhibit 10: This is the most controversial exhibit. There are many different layers here and none of them good for the NFL.
The key part of this exhibit is the chart that details alleged bounty payouts. I'm told by a source close to the situation that this information came from the infamous ledger. One of the key pieces of information from this exhibit is about assistant Joe Vitt and says “Vitt--$5,000 QB out pool.”
Many of us in the media pointed to this as a key component in the NFL's case. It seemed like proof, hardened proof, of a bounty system. When the NFL invited a dozen members of the media into its offices this was presented as proof as well. Seemed open and shut except it wasn't.
The NFL later admitted it wasn't able to corroborate that Vitt had actually done what the notation seemed to indicate that he had done. The NFL didn't make this fact particularly clear to the group of media and instead led us to believe this was in fact proof. This destroyed the league's credibility on this exhibit.
Grade: Big, fat, giant F
Exhibit 11: More game fees dollar amounts but again, no true proof of anything.
(Best part of this exhibit is a quote used by Williams: “Put your foot on the neck of the fear of criticism by reaching a decision of not worrying about what people think, do or say!” –Country Boy Wisdom
Exhibit 12: This riveting exhibit contains this highly inflammatory note from Williams to the players: “Meeting room cleanliness. Bus your trays back to the cafeteria! Don't leave food in the rooms! Throw out plastic silverware.” All of that is followed by a smiley face.
Exhibit 13: More notes about donations to some sort of pool but again zero proof of pay to injure.
Best part of exhibit was this quote on a sheet before one of their games: “Media this week: Keep Your F------ Mouth Shut.”
Exhibit 14: This is the controversial game footage in which the NFL claims Anthony Hargrove says “give me my money” after Vitt informs a small group of defenders that Brett Favre was knocked out of the game. Again, the media watched this on a large screen in the NFL's offices. No, you cannot see Hargrove's lips move but the voice that says the words sound a great deal like Hargrove's. A great deal. It sounds exactly like Hargrove to me.
However, it is still fair to say that if you can't see Hargrove's lips moving, how can you prove it was him? And if the NFL got this wrong it is also fair to wonder what else they screwed up.
Exhibit 15: A blog post from Sean Pamphilon. This is beyond worthless.
Exhibit 16: An article from the New Orleans Times-Picayune in which Saints linebacker Scott Shanle says a bounty program existed but that the NFL exaggerated its claims. Why this is included as proof is curious. It almost helps the Saints.
So, in total, the 16 exhibits of the NFL's bounty evidence turned over to the union gets grades of F, B, F, F, C, F, F, F, B+, F, incomplete, F, F, incomplete, F, D.
In all, the NFL's evidence turned over to the union won't be making the honor roll.