The New Orleans Saints finally learned Wednesday how their roster would be affected for the 2012 season by the bounty scandal that rocked the football world earlier this offseason.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, maybe not. But two months to the day the NFL announced an illegal pay-for-performance bounty program targeting opponents existed in the Saints locker room, the league handed out punishment for some of the players involved.
Saints coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who the NFL said were implicit in the program because they did nothing to stop it or misled investigators, found out their penalties on March 21.
They learned April 12 that their appeals were denied and that Payton would miss the entire 2012 season, while Loomis and Vitt will sit out eight and six games, respectively.
Also suspended indefinitely in March was former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who admitted he “designed and implemented” the program with the assistance of certain defensive players after being hired by Payton in 2009.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, however, kept what the league said were between 22 and 27 willing participants waiting until Wednesday when he suspended just four of them — two current and two former Saints.
Like Payton, Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma received a one-year suspension. Defensive end Will Smith got four games and former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita were banished for eight and three games, respectively.
So exactly two months after it all started with a news release from Goodell, the Saints and their fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief that this chapter in franchise history is over except for the penalty phase.
Yes, a sigh of relief.
After all, it could have been worse considering the Saints’ defense could have been gutted for more than 20 games, the total number of games Vilma and Smith stand to miss barring a successful appeal (good luck with that), the penalties were relatively light — unless you’re Jonathan Vilma.
Vilma denies he offered $10,000, as the NFL investigation revealed, to any teammate who would take quarterbacks Kurt Warner or Brett Favre out of playoff games in Jan. 2010 during the Saints’ run to a Super Bowl XLIV title.
If it’s proven that he did what the league said, the lengthier suspension would be justified — especially if someone collected money for knocking Warner out of what turned out to be the final game of his NFL career.
The fact the Saints kicked the tires on former Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, then signed veteran free agents Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne — who have both started in the middle — may have been an indication the team sensed Vilma would draw a heavy penalty.
Now, finally, the Saints can do what they do at this time of the year — and that’s prepare for a season instead of waiting for a shoe to drop.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved