Tarvaris Jackson spoke to reporters over the weekend, saying “I’m just here to compete, and may the best man win.” Hard hats and footballs are mingling at the state Capitol as construction workers and Minnesota Vikings fans chant “Build it!” ahead of a critical vote on a proposed $1 billion stadium.
Vitt said he never told Hargrove to lie or deny existence of bounty program
Briggs doesn’t condone the bounty scandal but questions if the Saintsdid anything illegal. (Getty Images)
Over the weekend, and before Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma appealed his season-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs spoke about the difficult balance between player safety and football’s intrinsically violent nature. “Player safety is best taken care of by providing health insurance for players’ lives,” Briggs told the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh. “Come on. It’s like asking a boxer: ‘Are your injuries related to taking blows to the head?’ We throw our bodies around. It’s physical. It’s football. You can’t stop the violence from happening.” But Briggs, who signed a one-year extension last month, also knows that what the Saints were caught up in was not only wrong, but has no place in the NFL, even if he thinks commissioner Roger Goodell’s heavy-handed punishment of Vilma was “a bunch of B.S.” “Let me make one thing clear: I in no way condone somebody putting money up to intentionally hurt someone,” he said. “But bounty or not, what did the Saints do on the field that’s illegal? All I’ve seen on TV is clean, physical football. You can get those same highlights from any NFL team.” And it’s this sentiment — the same one the Saints’ players (and their lawyers) are making in their appeal — that gets to the heart of the matter. Football is an inherently dangerous endeavor, and without releasing evidence, it’s hard to convict a group of players for wrongdoing without drawing criticism from the NFLPA, players and a subset of fans. But according to CBA hammered out last summer, Goodell retains the right to not only punish players for off-field issues, but also rule on any appeals coming from those punishments. Which is why Vilma and his teammates (both former and current) are at Goodell’s mercy when it comes to their NFL futures. Either way, Briggs isn’t alone in his “It’s physical, it’s football, you can’t stop the violence from happening”beliefs. After former quarterback Kurt Warner admitted that he didn’t want his kids playing football because of the injury risk, former wideout Amani Toomer kindly suggested Warner keep his mouth shut. “Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this,” Toomer said during an appearance on NBC Sports Talk last week. Everything that he’s gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it’s just a little disingenuous to me.” As PFT’s Michael David Smith wrote over the weekend regarding Briggs’ comments, “Providing health insurance for retired players is great, but the best way to care for an injury is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s difficult to square many players’ insistence that they want the NFL to take care of them if they’re struggling with health problems later in life with many of the same players’ insistence that they don’t want the NFL to discipline them or their colleagues who break the rules designed to promote player safety.” For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.
The NFL misrepresented what former Saints DC Gregg Williams said during interviews with the league, a source close to Williams told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Williams never admitted a “bounty program” was in place, according to the source, and that the league “rephrased his statements to satisfy its needs.” The source also said Williams never identified any players for their involvement in a pay-for-performance or bounty program.
The New Orleans Saints had nothing to work with, but I’ll grade them strictly based on the picks which they did have to use. Unfortunately, the Saints took a bad situation and made it worse by consistently reaching and not coming away with any immediate help.
Akiem Hicks has the size to play the nose tackle role, which the Saints hoped Shaun Rogers could fill last year. However, Hicks is extremely raw and will likely only play a minor role in 2012.
Nick Toon had some value in the 4th round, but I don’t think he’s a great fit for the Saints. His lack of athleticism limits his upside and he’ll have to fight just to earn a spot as the 4th or 5th receiver in New Orleans.
Corey White is another developmental prospect who can play corner or safety. He’ll provide some much needed depth in the secondary.
Andrew Tiller and Marcel Jones may be handed backup jobs by default. The Saints are severely lacking depth on the offensive line, which should allow both prospects to make the final roster. However, neither has much upside and are unlikely to ever develop beyond the backup role.
Even taking the lack of picks into account, it’s tough to give the Saints high marks for this class. It’s unlikely that any of these selections will be playing a meaningful role in New Orleans three years from now and they offer almost no immediate value.
According to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a source told him that the NFL has misrepresented what former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said in his interviews with the league.
Triplett’s source told him that Williams never admitted that a “bounty program” was actually instituted and that the NFL “rephrased his statements to satisfy its needs.”
Of course this doesn’t mean that Williams and the Saints are innocent, but if there’s a good time for the NFL to come out and show everyone the evidence they have against the Saints, now’s the time. That’s of course if they have any solid evidence.
I just see Roger Goodell in his corner office right now saying, “uh oh.”
What should be our new featured poll question?
This Jan. 24, 2010, file photo shows Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre being hit by New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship NFL football game in New Orleans.
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By JIM LITKE AP Sports Columnist Roger Goodell better have the goods.
Somewhere in the 50,000 pages of documents related to the Saints bounty program better be some compelling evidence that it was much more organized and way more vicious than anything the NFL had ever seen. Otherwise, the punishment he’s doled out already has exceeded the crime, and the commissioner’s credibility on two of the signature issues of his tenure – player safety and the integrity of the games – will suffer a hit he can barely afford. Because if the players believe Goodell is more interested in burnishing his tough-guy reputation and insulating the league from further liability on safety concerns than he is in genuinely pursuing their best interests, look out. All the pushback from all the previous disciplinary cases combined will seem like a nudge.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed an appeal Monday over his season-long suspension that repeated several points the players’ union filed in grievances last week; most important, perhaps, that the NFL has failed to present evidence of widespread involvement in a cash-for-hits program designed to injure opposing players, including the allegation that Vilma was one of the ringleaders. Three teammates were also suspended for varying lengths of time: Saints defensive end Will Smith, for four games; DE Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, for eight games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, for three games. The NFLPA also informed the league it was reserving the right to appeal their cases after a jurisdictional issue is ironed out.
Fujita, who is also a member of the union’s executive committee, emailed a statement to The Associated Press claiming, ”I’ve yet to hear the specifics of any allegation against me, nor have I seen any evidence that supports what the NFL alleges. I look forward to the opportunity to confront what evidence they claim to have in the appropriate forum. I have never contributed money to any so-called `bounty’ pool, and any statements to the contrary are false. To say I’m disappointed with the League would be a huge understatement.”
The union made some of the same claims soon after Goodell announced the players’ suspensions last week, with Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, going so far as to call his client’s one-year suspension ”perhaps irrational.”
The NFL fired back that it shared plenty of evidence in its voluminous file, and even brought in a former federal prosecutor last winter to oversee its handling of the case. Mary Jo White, who is now in private practice but previously was the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in response to union claims last week that the league repeatedly shared details of the investigation with the NFLPA.
But NFLPA outside counsel Richard Smith said, ”It’s important to note that nothing Mary Joe White said in her conference call was new or gave any evidence or insight. It was very, very improper for the league to hire a third party and then have a news conference to trumpet their findings.”
”They did so instead of allowing the players’ association and its lawyers to assess the evidence ourselves,” Smith added. We have been asked to accept what is being claimed by the NFL without seeing any credible evidence of what they are claiming.”
That’s hard to imagine, considering the harsh penalties Goodell already imposed on the Saints hierarchy without so much as a peep of protest. He earlier suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a year, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams – singled out as the architect of the bounty program – was suspended indefinitely.
The club also was fined $500,000 and docked two second-round draft choices this year and next.
In taking those actions, Goodell has argued he was acting to protect the players. But many of his critics noted that the commissioner’s previous public support for an 18-game schedule undermines the very concept. And they worry if all the focus on the so-called illegal hits that result from bounty programs is designed to distract attention from the all-too-legal hits that are essential to the game – and the reason the league is facing dozens of lawsuits involving more than 1,500 former players contending it failed to address the dangers of head trauma for years.
Goodell understands no matter how he tackles those issues, he’s walking a fine line.
”In my position, or any job like this, you have tough decisions to make,” Goodell said recently. ”I know I won’t be able to please everyone … that is not what I need to be concerned with. What is good for the game is what I need to be concerned with.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.