It Feels Like Christmas: What to Expect From the Saints Bounty Controversy

The 2012 off season is a gift that keeps on giving.  Just a few days ago, I wrote about the Saints and Drew Brees contract negotiations being “far apart.”  Then last night it was reported that Mickey Loomis, the Saints current General Manager, believes that Drew Brees is “very good” but not “great.”  

Gregg Williams

Gregg Williams tabulates how much money that blindside hit will cost.

As a life long Saints hater, I would put this day as being not simply very good, but indeed great.  As it turns out, the Saints had a bounty program under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, including cash for removing Brett Favre and Kurt Warner from playoff games during their Superbowl* run.

This is a big one, but I believe it has already been discussed a lot.  The bounties were not simply the players pooling up some cash, but also coaches, agents and felons.

The league said between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved in the program and that it was administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with the knowledge of coach Sean Payton.

I am sure there are plenty of other bounties around the league, but you would likely be hard pressed to find any with organizational backing.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis failed to stop the bounty program when directed to do so by team owner Tom Benson, while coach Sean Payton was aware of the allegations but did not pursue them or take steps to stop the “bounty” program, according to the investigation’s findings.

Shocking news to those outside of the NFC South.  Falcons fans have grown used to the late hits, illegal hits and dirty plays from New Orleans.  The last game Atlanta played against the Saints, Malcolm Jenkins delivered an especially dirty shot to Reggie Kelly that took him out of the game.

Regardless, the Saints are widely expected to be punished worse than the Patriots in Spygate, and we could know for sure by the end of the month.  What all could happen?

Draft Picks.  Almost certain is that the Saints will lose some draft picks.  The Patriots lost a first round draft pick, and the Saints will likely lose more.  New Orleans is already short on draft picks this year, and may lose some this year, and a first next year.  

For a team close up to the cap dealing with an exodus of talent this free agency, losing picks will certainly hurt.  The Saints are expected to lose a starting corner back, wide receiver and guard, as well as plenty of other depth players.  We may see a significantly hindered Saints offense in the next few seasons.

Suspensions.  At this point it is almost guaranteed that Gregg Williams will be suspended.  Sean Payton could very well be punished with a multi-game suspension.  The NFL could even take a very hard line stance, and prevent Payton from coaching for the entire season.  This is uncharted water, but Roger Goodell has previously punished coaches more severely than players.

The ESPN NFC South Blog expects punishments to be severe, with most of the NFL generally hating the Saints almost as much as me.

They have done some truly wonderful things, but they are not — and have not been — a perfect organization by any means. Around the league they’re viewed by many as arrogant, and a lot of people think the Saints play by their own rules.

The defensive players may also be suspended for multiple games for participating in an illegal scheme.  A player like Jonathan Vilma, who offered $10,000 to whoever takes Brett Favre out of a game, will likely be cut (because of his salary and play) then sit out a few games.

Termination.  I see no way that Mickley Loomis survives this.  Loomis was specifically told by owner Tom Benson to stop the bounties and he did nothing.  The NFL had previously investigated the Saints for paying their players for injuring the other team, and many higher ups must have been short of truthful when they were interviewed.  I could see Payton’s job being in danger as well, but he will probably remain in New Orleans.

There have been a few scattered reports that both Loomis and Payton are “safe” but it seems early in the process to guarantee either returning to New Orleans, whether at the hands of Benson or Goodell.

Fines.  Expect heavy fines greater than the $750,000 total for Spygate.  This will change little on the field, but it is certain many in the organization will have their wallets lightened.

Contract Negotiations.  Drew Brees should be less willing to negotiate his new contract.  How the Saints team will look in a next few years is anyone’s guess, and they may struggle to replace the offensive firepower with a shortage of draft picks.  Suspensions and firings may also change the NFL’s most explosive offense, and Brees will be unlikely to take less than market value to play in a shell of his former team.  I would almost guarantee Brees sees the franchise tag.

All in all this is a great day for Falcons fans.  The Saints are suffering a significant setback after what was already going to be a poor off season.  The bounty issue will linger for months in New Orleans, as the Saints will continue to pay for this bad decision.  It is not every day your rival suffers this level of setback, so this is clearly a day for celebration.  This one may take the Saints out of competition for the top of the NFC South.