|Will Smith (left) and Anthony Hargrove say they are 'profoundly disappointed with the NFL's conduct.' (AP)|
NEW YORK -- When NFL investigators began meeting with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in an attempt to decipher what was quickly becoming one of the great scandals in league history, they found an extremely cooperative witness.
Williams, in effect, told NFL investigators everything. Every detail of the bounty system. Every nugget. Every fact. And in one extraordinary quote, a quote that typified what was an extraordinary day Monday, a day of fact revealing by the NFL and fact denying by the union, the NFL said Williams made a damning statement.
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Williams told the investigators that by utilizing a pay-to-injure scheme he was mistakenly "rolling the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed."
The day began with the NFLPA releasing all of the evidence the NFL had released to them. The evidence, not all that convincing except for several critical facts, gave the union a fact and public relations edge. But that was temporary. The NFL, later in the day, gave a presentation to a small group of journalists. CBSSports.com was present.
It was attended by league lawyers and investigators and conducted mostly by former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White. Earlier in the day four players -- Scott Fujita, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Jonathan Vilma -- were shown the evidence the NFL had accumulated as part of their appeals to the suspensions enacted by commissioner Roger Goodell.
Vilma departed angrily, declaring the NFL's case a sham and Fujita called the NFL "careless and irresponsible."
What the NFL did with the writers was then walk through the case it had just presented to the players. The result was an NFL that had finally demonstrated some firmness of its case and yes, some proof.
Is the proof 100 percent rock solid? No. Some of it is circumstantial. Is it convincing? Much of what the NFL showed journalists was. The NFL laid out its case meticulously and impressively.
What became clear was that Williams walked the league through how his bounty program worked in far greater detail than generally known. He was the main conduit but by far not the only one. The NFL clearly has far more sources and is protecting those sources.
Also, in many ways, the stupidity of the Saints hurt their own cause. The league was able to retrieve -- unbelievably -- large chunks of information from the Saints' own computer system, according to the NFL. They got cooperation from Saints owner Tom Benson to access the team's files and were able to gather charts and other information that, while not a smoking gun, contributed to the appearance of Saints' guilt.
Some of the main points from the NFL's presentation included:
• Williams and assistant Joe Vitt, the NFL says, admitted to a pay-to-injure system to investigators, although Vitt now denies this.
• Vitt, the NFL says, contributed $5,000 to a bounty on Brett Favre. This was noted earlier in a report from CBSSports.com.
• The NFL says Roman Harper put a $1,000 bounty on former Giants runner Brandon Jacobs.
• A cash box, the NFL says, with bounty earnings were kept in Williams' office.
• Mike Ornstein, the two-time felon who the league repeatedly warned the team about having around the complex, was also a source for the NFL.
Again, there is no bull's-eye here, but the circumstantial case has more than a few legs. Most important, it bears repeating, that it's becoming clear the NFL has far more evidence it won't show.
It also bears repeating that it seems not only did Williams provide a great deal of information to league, but it also seems Williams pointed investigators to other sources who then cooperated with the NFL.
One of the more interesting side notes is that even if Williams is allowed to coach in the NFL again, why would any team every trust him? Williams started the bounty program and then sold out the team when he was busted.
A more comical aspect of this (if there is comedy in such a serious thing) is during the presentation to reporters, the NFL showed a slide show that featured Dog the Bounty Hunter being used as motivation. You simply cannot make this stuff up.
The Saints were vicious and nasty, but it's become clear, seeing as they kept damning evidence on a computer, and used Dog the Bounty Hunter as motivation, that they weren't very smart. Or original.