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Saints' vile bounties lay big hit on players' cries about Goodell, safety

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Kurt Warner quit playing after taking several big hits vs. the Saints in the 2009 playoffs. (Getty Images)  
Kurt Warner quit playing after taking several big hits vs. the Saints in the 2009 playoffs. (Getty Images)  

This is what you hear from NFL players all the time. Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't really care about players. Goodell is a dictator. A bully. Goodell is arrogant and oh, yeah, Goodell doesn't really care about the players.

But what an investigation into the New Orleans Saints and a despicable bounty system revealed shows the opposite. It shows that sometimes players, who push for safety, are hypocrites. While talking on one hand about their concerns regarding concussions, in another moment they are openly contriving to badly injure fellow players for chump change. It shows that on occasion it is indeed actually Goodell who attempts to control the more primal and at times disgusting tendencies of some players who do things when the cameras are off and no one is looking.

A lengthy investigation by the NFL's security department has disclosed that between 22 and 27 defensive players on the New Orleans Saints, as well as at least one assistant coach, maintained a "bounty" program funded primarily by players in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Goodell released a lengthy and unbelievably disturbing report that dozens of Saints defensive players were using a bounty system that paid players for inflicting damaging injuries on opponents. This is ugly stuff. It doesn't get much worse than this. Really, it doesn't.

"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for 'performance' but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said in a statement. "The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity."

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And those are the two elements players have complained about for years now, and rightfully so. This isn't damning for all players but it's damning enough and hurts the player narrative that Goodell and the NFL don't care about the great toll this sport puts on their bodies and minds.

This shows the opposite, that players and even coaches sometimes need to be protected from themselves. The next time a player complains that football is too soft or there are now too many rules instituted by Goodell protecting players, remember this bounty situation, and tell that player or coach to shut the hell up.

One retired veteran player, who might one day go into the Hall of Fame, said to me Goodell is a hero because, "Myself included, we players sometimes do some really stupid stuff."

And, again, this isn't about all players. Yet after several quick text conversations with current and former players, I'm told this bounty system happens far more than people know. The NFL, I'm told by one league official, wanted to use the Saints as an example to stop this horrific practice once and for all.

I'm also told that the Saints' bounty system was common knowledge around the league. How this investigation was kept a secret is a modern miracle. But I do know this: Everyone involved will likely face a stern suspension. No question about that.

This should lead to the firing of Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, both of whom were identified in Goodell's statement as knowing about the bounty system but turning a blind eye. There are many reasons not to like Payton; this is just another.

"Although head coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the program," the NFL's statement read, "he was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue."

Player arrogance. Extreme arrogance from the coach and general manager. How Payton does not get fired is stunning but he won't because he's Teflon in New Orleans.

Most disappointing of all is the player participation. Nowhere in the NFL's report does it say anything about a mass player revolt against the bounty system. Why didn't Saints players tell then defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who administered the program, according to the NFL, to go kick rocks? Why didn't any player put a stop to this?

"Players were willing and enthusiastic participants in the program, contributing regularly and at times pledging large amounts," the statement reads. "Between 22 and 27 defensive players contributed funds to the pool over the course of three NFL seasons. In some cases, the amounts pledged were both significant and directed against a specific opposing player."

One of those players targeted was quarterback Kurt Warner and the bounty amounts reached up to $50,000.

This is, to me, perhaps the finest hour for Goodell and one of the worst hours for players.

The players look like hypocrites. They look like phonies. And that's unfortunate.

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