Players vowing to fight bounty suspensions

By BRETT MARTEL - AP Sports Writer
    2012-05-03 09:02

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - All but four of the 27 current or former Saints that the NFL linked to New Orleans' cash-for-hits bounty system can now look forward to next season free of worry that they'll be forced to miss games, or game checks.

As for those who've been suspended, they were sanctioned as severely as the coaches and general manager punished before them, and now must determine what measures they're willing to take to show NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that he got it wrong.

``I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed,'' said Saints linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma, who received the harshest punishment of any player.

Like Saints head coach Sean Payton, Vilma has been suspended for the entire 2012 season. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended for the first half of the 16-game season; Saints defensive end Will Smith was barred for the opening four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three games of 2012.

They were all suspended without pay, costing each hundreds of thousands of dollars.

``The accusations made against me are completely and 100 percent false, and I plan to appeal,'' Smith said in a statement issued by his publicist.

The league said its investigation showed ``a significant number of players participated'' in a bounty program - either by paying into a pool or collecting from it - that ran from 2009-11 under former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely.

Goodell stressed, however, that ``the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level.''

The losses of Vilma and Smith, combined with the previously announced suspension Payton and suspensions of eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt, amount to a significant punishment for the Saints ahead of a season that will end with New Orleans hosting the Super Bowl.

Yet, if Goodell is hoping to move on from the bounty case, the NFL Players Association might not let him. The suspended players have three days to appeal, and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said the union would fight the ruling. Fujita, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, has spoken out in the past about the need for the league to do a better job of protecting players.

Through his agent, Vilma issued a statement saying he is ``shocked and extremely disappointed'' by the punishment and denied he was a bounty ringleader.

``I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player,'' Vilma said. ``I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players.''

Will Smith stated that he has ``never in my career, nor as a captain, asked others to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players.''

``Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision,'' Smith said. ``I am interested in discovering who is making these specific and false accusations ... as well as why a decision was made without speaking with me and giving me the opportunity to review the facts.''

DeMaurice Smith said the union ``has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf.''

The league said no player agreed to be interviewed in person and the NFLPA did not share information from its own investigation.

As attention to concussions has increased in recent seasons, Goodell has emphasized player safety through rules enforcement and the threat of fines and suspensions. The NFL is facing dozens of lawsuits brought by more than 1,000 former players who say the league didn't do enough to warn them about - or shield them from - the dangers of head injuries.

According to the NFL, its investigation determined the Saints ran a bounty system with thousands of dollars offered for big hits that sidelined opponents. The NFL said targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. ``Knockouts'' were worth $1,500 and ``cart-offs'' $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

``In assessing player discipline, I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation,'' Goodell said in a statement.

According to the league, Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Cardinals QB Warner out of a playoff game at the end of the 2009 season, and the same amount for knocking then-Vikings QB Favre out of that season's NFC championship game. The Saints were flagged for roughing Favre twice, and the league later said the Saints should have received another penalty for a high-low hit from two players that hurt Favre's ankle. Favre was able to finish the game, but the Saints won in overtime en route to the NFL title.

Fujita, the NFL said, ``pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool'' during that season's playoffs. Smith, according to the NFL, ``pledged significant sums to the program pool.''

The league said Hargrove ``actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.'' He also ``actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints,'' the league said, adding that he eventually ``submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence'' of the Saints' program, but that he knew about and participated in it.

Vilma will miss out on $1.6 million in base salary in 2012, while Fujita stands to lose more than $640,000, Hargrove more than $385,000, and Smith more than $190,000. Some of their contracts were restructured this offseason, perhaps in anticipation of the punishments.

The Saints, Browns and Packers already have made personnel moves that could help fill the gaps.

The Saints signed three linebackers in free agency. New Orleans' starting right tackle Zach Strief, now entering his seventh season with the club, chose not to offer his opinion of the suspensions, but spoke highly of Vilma.

``Nothing can be gained from sharing how I feel about'' the suspensions, Strief said. ``I will miss Jonathan very much. Knowing him personally, he's a good person. This is going to be a tough thing for him to go through. In terms of his leadership, somebody else will step up and take over.''

The Packers, who also will be without defensive end Mike Neal for four games because he violated the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, drafted two defensive linemen last week. The Browns drafted two linebackers.

``We will respect the commissioner's decision,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. ``Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp.''

The Saints and Packers did not comment.

Any payout for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, is against NFL rules. Goodell has said he's found anecdotal evidence of a number of teams running such performance pools, but not on the same level as the Saints.

Goodell's decision was heavily criticized by many players, but not all.

``He's doing the right thing to make sure this doesn't happen ever again,'' New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. ``He's been harsh, to try to make a statement saying there is no place for this in the game of football.''

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said on his Twitter page that the penalties were ``ridiculous'' and that he wants ``to see the evidence and hear an explanation.''

Saints veteran linebacker Scott Shanle tweeted that taking the whole season away from Vilma is ``absolutely ludicrous!''

In a memo sent Wednesday to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell reminded them that ``any program of non-contract bonuses, however it is characterized, is a violation of league rules.'' Also, all players will be told how they can confidentially report rules violations.

In March, Goodell made Payton the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, for trying to cover up the system of extra cash payouts. The Saints were fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks.

Fujita, Hargrove and Smith are allowed to participate in offseason activity, including preseason games, before their suspensions take effect. Vilma, though, is suspended immediately and is not slated to be reinstated until after the next Super Bowl in February.


AP Football Writer Howard Fendrich and AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen, Chris Jenkins, Tom Withers and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Andre EllingtonDec 1 02:23p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (toe) is dealing with turf toe and is considered day-to-day, although his status for Week 13 is in doubt.

Kyle WilliamsDec 1 12:53p

Buffalo Bills DT Kyle Williams (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Dec. 1.

B. RoethlisbergerDec 1 12:33p

Updating earlier reports, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (head) was told his diagnosis was 'traumatic ocular migraine,' while head coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger has a concussion.

Josh McCownDec 1 12:33p

Updating earlier reports, Cleveland Browns QB Josh McCown (clavicle) possibly has a broken collarbone, which would likely end his season.

B. RoethlisbergerDec 1 12:23p

Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (head) said he does not have a concussion and expects to practice Wednesday, Dec. 2, and play in Week 13 [ More ]

B. RoethlisbergerDec 1 12:23p

Updating an earlier report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) has a concussion and is in the concussion protocol, according to head coach Mike Tomlin.

Josh McCownDec 1 12:13p

Cleveland Browns QB Josh McCown (clavicle) was in a sling after the Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens Monday, Nov. 30, and he will have more tests Tuesday, [ More ]

Zach ErtzDec 1 12:13p

Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz (concussion) was cleared to practice Tuesday, Dec. 1, or the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 22.

Terrelle PryorDec 1 12:03p

Free-agent WR Terrelle Pryor (Browns) will re-sign with the Cleveland Browns Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Karlos WilliamsDec 1 11:03a

Buffalo Bills RB Karlos Williams (shoulder) is in the locker room wearing a sling on his arm Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Sam BradfordDec 1 10:33a

Philadelphia Eagles QB Sam Bradford (shoulder) will practice Tuesday, Dec. 1, which will serve as a big test to determine his status for Week 13 against the New England [ More ]

Chris JohnsonDec 1 09:53a

Updating previous reports, Arizona Cardinals RB Chris Johnson (leg) could be out six to eight weeks with a broken tibia, according to sources.

Case KeenumNov 30 07:53p

St. Louis Rams QB Case Keenum (concussion) is still being evaluated for a concussion but is likely to be on the practice field in some capacity Wednesday, Dec. 2, [ More ]

Tyler EifertNov 30 07:23p

Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck) underwent tests on his injured neck, but they did not show any structural damage. His status for the Week 13 game against the [ More ]

Marlon BrownNov 30 07:13p

The Baltimore Ravens have declared DT Carl Davis, CB Cassius Vaughn, OT Eugene Monroe, DL Kapron Lewis-Moore, OG Kelechi Osemele, WR Marlon Brown, CB Tray Walker inactive for Week 12.

Andrew HawkinsNov 30 07:13p

The Cleveland Browns have declared WR Andrew Hawkins, CB Don Jones, CB Joe Haden, OG Joel Bitonio, CB Pierre Desir, DL Randy Starks, WR Taylor Gabriel inactive for Week 12.

Chris JohnsonNov 30 06:33p

Arizona Cardinals RB Chris Johnson (leg) suffered a fractured tibia during the team's Week 12 game and will miss an extended period of time. The team is still waiting [ More ]

Chris HarperNov 30 06:33p

New England Patriots WR Chris Harper was released Monday, Nov. 30.

Jimmy GrahamNov 30 06:23p

Seattle Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Nov. 30, and DT A.J. Francis was signed from the practice squad to the active roster [ More ]

Trey WilliamsNov 30 06:23p

Dallas Cowboys RB Trey Williams was waived Monday, Nov. 30.

Karlos WilliamsNov 30 06:13p

Buffalo Bills RB Karlos Williams' (shoulder) status for the Week 13 game against the Houston Texans is uncertain at this point. Williams suffered a shoulder injury during the team's Week 12 game.

Rishard MatthewsNov 30 05:13p

Updating a previous report, Miami Dolphins WR Rishard Matthews (ribs) suffered multiple fractured ribs in Week 12 against the New York Jets, according to sources. There is no timetable [ More ]

Andrew LuckNov 30 04:53p

Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck (kidney) is still the Colts' starting quarterback and will be under center when he's 100% healthy, according to head coach Chuck Pagano.

Rob GronkowskiNov 30 04:53p

Updating an ongoing story, New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) is not expected to play in Week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles, according to sources. Gronkowski is likely [ More ]

Peyton ManningNov 30 04:13p

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (foot) will get his walking boot off at some point this week, but there is still not definitive timeline for his return. For now [ More ]

Rob GronkowskiNov 30 03:33p

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski's (knee) MRI revealed that he suffered a knee strain in Week 12 against the Denver Broncos. He will miss a week at most.

Andre EllingtonNov 30 03:33p

Updating a previous report, Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (toe) suffered a turf toe injury in Week 12, but the severity is unknown at this time.

Rob GronkowskiNov 30 03:03p

Updating a previous report, New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) is week-to-week, and his knee injury is considered more of a bruise than a tear, according to sources.

Allen HurnsNov 30 01:33p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (concussion) is going through the concussion protocol but has not been ruled out for the Week 13 game against the Tennessee Titans.

Dan HerronNov 30 01:03p

Indianapolis Colts RB Dan Herron will become the backup to RB Frank Gore with RB Ahmad Bradshaw (wrist) done for the season.

Rob GronkowskiNov 30 12:53p

Updating a previous report, New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) isn't dealing with any structural damage in his knee, but he still could miss Week 13.

Chase FordNov 30 12:43p

Baltimore Ravens WR Daniel Brown and OG Kaleb Johnson were promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Monday, Nov. 30, while WR Chuck Jacobs was released and [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
Player Notes:
Forum Posts:

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group