|Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on Payton, Loomis and the Saints. (Getty Images)|
The NFL absolutely dropped the proverbial hammer on the Saints for "Bountygate" on Wednesday. Sean Payton is suspended for the entire 2012 season without pay, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for eight games, the Saints have been fined $500,000 and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely.
In addition, the Saints will lose a second-round pick in both 2012 and 2013. Also, Joe Vitt, linebackers coach and assistant head coach, will be suspended as well. Vitt would've been a candidate to take over as head coach for Payton, but now it's likely offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Commissioner Goodell said in a statement released by the league. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised.”
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” Goodell continued. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game."
According to the NFL, Williams will "have his status reviewed" after the 2012 season, at which time Goodell will determine whether or not to reinstate him. Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network reports that "sources close to Williams" were "shocked" by the length of the suspension.
The Saints issued an apology on Wednesday.
"We recognize our fans' concerns and we regret the uncertainty this episode has created for them," the Saints said in a statement released by the team. "We are humbled by the support our organization has received from our fans today in the wake of this announcement, and we ask them to continue to stand with us, as they have done in the past, when both our team and our city have overcome greater adversities. To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations.
"It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner. There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again."
Saints quarterback Brees was, surprisingly, um, surprised.
"I am speechless," Brees tweeted. "Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. ... I need to hear an explanation for this punishment."