If you were to guess which NFL team maintained an active bounty program for defensive players looking to knock opponents off the field, you'd never guess the Saints, but here we are.
The Ravens? The Steelers? The Jets? Sure, those seem like the sort of teams that have had bounty programs up and running for years. But the Saints? As Adam Schefter reports:
NFL security determined between 22 and 27 defensive players on the Saints, as well as at least one asst. coach, maintained a bounty program. ... Discipline for the Saints could include fines, suspensions and forfeiture of draft choices.
Oh, there will be fines. There will be suspensions. And in all likelihood, somebody's going to lose his job over this. The NFL says it was Gregg Williams in charge of maintaining the program, and again, that leads us back to the original question: The Saints?
Gregg Williams' defenses were a mess the past few years. If a team's going to have a bounty program, you at least expect them to be good. But it gets worse:
The details are stunning at times. "The program paid players $1,500 for a "knockout" and $1,000 for a "cart-off" with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs, " the NFL's statement reads.
This is Any Given Sunday-type stuff, where the NFL's family-friendly, team-first landscape looks more like a lawless monument to money and testosterone run amok. Reality's probably somewhere in between. However well-intentioned and team-centric and character-building, football itself is violent by design, and on some level, any defensive players' salary is by definition a bounty, paid with the intent that they'll tear apart offenses every week.
Other players have already spoken out to say that bounty programs are common all over the league, and players like Terrell Suggs have confirmed it in the past. If it's that prevalent, then maybe we should learn to love the NFL despite some of the obvious realities underpinning the "family-friendly" NFL experience.
But with billions of ad dollars at stake each year, that's not good enough for Roger Goodell. If there's one thing that's been true throughout the Ginger Hammer's tenure, it's that the crime is bad, but getting caught is infinitely worse. Embarrassing the league in public is what guarantees you'll get the book thrown at you. And even if it happens all over the NFL, the Saints are the ones who got caught.
So at this point it's still early, and there's only one certainty in all this: The Saints--who apparently spent three years trying to knock out players for money--are about to get HAMMERED.