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Ex-Saints star Roaf didn't see, doesn't understand bounty system

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Roaf, a Saint from 1993-2001, wonders why millionaires would get involved in a bounty system. (Getty Images)  
Roaf, a Saint from 1993-2001, wonders why millionaires would get involved in a bounty system. (Getty Images)  

NEW YORK -- While Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf supports the NFL office in its push for player safety and its stand against bounties, he's a realist -- and that makes him uncertain what impact commissioner Roger Goodell's punishment of the New Orleans Saints will have on players.

"If the players want to pay a guy to do something in this manner," said Roaf, a former New Orleans star who was here to introduce the Saints' third-round draft choice, "it won't stop it, because the players can do it without the coaches knowing about it if they really want to."

Roaf, who will enter the Hall of Fame this summer, said he never was part of a bounty program but said he was aware of programs -- almost always reserved for special teams -- where players rewarded each other for big hits or for busting wedges or for making key stops.

It often was done behind the scenes, he said, without others knowing, but never, he said, did he witness anyone offering money for injuring an opponent.

Last year's Saints apparently did, because we have an audio of then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams addressing the subject before their playoff game vs. San Francisco -- or after the Saints had been warned by the league office to stop.

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"I don't know the specifics," Roaf said, "but I don't think that needs to be going on in the game. I wasn't there, so I don't know how they were organizing it, but I don't condone it. But the way the game is, if you're out there playing and you're injured, the guy is going to go after you.

"You don't really need to put a bounty on anyone, because if you're out there playing injured, you're a marked guy anyway. If you're injured and can't play, you don't need to be out there. But there doesn't need to be money put on trying to take a guy out.

"I remember when we played the Oakland Raiders and this one guy tackled our quarterback, [Jeff] Blake, came down on his foot and broke the bones on his foot. Now, the way he came down on him and put his elbow on his foot ... it was done on purpose. It was not done in a way for bounties. It was just the way that guy was. With some guys, you have to watch out, because they have a reputation for trying to get after you."

Some persons have suggested Saints' players might have been put in involuntary positions where they had no choice but to follow a coach's orders; that, if they refused, they could've been benched or removed from games. But Roaf isn't sure he's willing to buy that argument.

"I just don't think it's called for," he said. "When you have guys making 5, 6, and 7 million dollars in base salaries, it doesn't make sense. I mean, the guy who has incentive to do something like that is the backup role player who isn't making much money. Like I said, when we did something like that, it was more geared to special-teams guys who went downfield and made big hits."

While Roaf called the suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton "severe" because it removes him from the scene for a season and because it could handicap the team's chances of reaching the Super Bowl when New Orleans plays host to the game in 2013, he said he understands the decision.

"It was a tough call," he said. "I'm always going to root for [the Saints], but I understand the commissioner doing what he had to do because he had warned them -- just like he warns players. So, I respect the fact that he kept the same protocol with the organization that he's had with players."

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