The NFL delivered what might have been one of the final blows in the New Orleans Saints bounty saga on Monday afternoon. Following the appeal hearings for the four suspended players, the league brought a dozen reporters, including Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com, into a room at its New York headquarters and showed them the evidence the league uncovered in its investigation and decision to punish the players.
Just how revealing was the evidence? King called it "explosive, compelling" in a tweet after seeing it. And what exactly was this evidence? Former Federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, who was hired by the NFL to review the materials, presented it twice on Monday, once to the players appealing their suspension and again to the 12 reporters. Documents ran the gamut from Gregg Williams' testimony to a PowerPoint slide featuring a picture of Dog the Bounty Hunter and stacks of cash.
Among the more notable revelations on Monday:
- A PowerPoint slide shown the night before the Saints' January 2011 playoff game against Seattle featuring photos of Dog the Bounty Hunter, cash and text that read: "Now is the time to do our job ... collect bounty $$! No apologies! Let's go hunting!''
- Revelations of $35,000 in bounties for Brett Favre, which included a $5,000 contribution from assistant coach and this year's interim Joe Vitt, who now denies it.
- There was a ledger sheet showing Roman Harper due a payment of $1,000 for a "cart-off" hit on Brandon Jacobs.
- There was evidence that Matt Hasselbeck and Marshawn Lynch were also targeted.
One thing clear from the reports is the extensive cooperation from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He walked the league through the details of the bounty system and pointed the league in the right direction to investigate further.
Saints owner Tom Benson provided the league access to the team's computer systems, which allowed them to recover the soon-to-be infamous PowerPoint slide.
The batch of evidence presented Monday was in addition to an earlier batch obtained by Freeman.
Players and their attorneys received the evidence on Friday, but argued Monday that they did not receive it with the required 72-hour window and therefore did not have time to adequately review the material. The appeal adjourned during the middle part of the day to allow for additional review time.
The players left the appeal hearing claiming that the process was unfair. The NFL will leave the hearing open through the rest of the week to give players a chance to present their side in the appeal process.
Jonathan Vilma and his attorney Peter Ginsberg left the hearing entirely on Monday morning. Vilma is personally suing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation of character related to the league's handling of the bounty scandal.
So what happens now?
Fans tired of hearing the endless back and forth are unlike to get a break anytime soon -- at least not until training camp starts, and probably not then either. The players and their counsel could pursue other options, and the demand to see more evidence, more direct evidence that points to those players with even more specifics, is only likely to get louder. The Vilma lawsuit, if it makes it far enough into the court proceedings, could expose even more animosity.
Players saw the evidence presented here before the appeal and heard it presented again during the appeal by White. On top of the claim that they did not have the evidence in enough time to prepare for Monday's appeal, the players have pointed to flaws in the due process because they were not allowed to question coaches or even White.
Since the bounty revelations were first revealed at the beginning of March, players and the players union have demanded more transparency from the league with the evidence being used in the case. Simple curiosity has fed the public's appetite to see more. On Monday, the NFL met those demands. The argument going forward will likely hinge on the evidence not being revealed by the league, but the latest news likely makes it even more of an uphill fight for the suspended players.