ST. LOUIS — The NFL suspended Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely on Wednesday, ending more than two weeks of speculation after the league first announced its wide-ranging investigation into a pay-for-performance program the New Orleans Saints ran during a three-year period.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said he will review Williams’ status after the upcoming season and consider whether he can return to the league.
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After the NFL first made its investigation public on March 2, Williams admitted to—and apologized for—running the program while in charge of the Saints’ defense from 2009-11. He was hired by the Rams in January.
Saints coach Sean Payton will be suspended for an entire season, beginning April 1.
The Saints have been fined $500,000 and docked second-round picks in both 2012 and 2013 while general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended without pay for the first eight-regular season games.
Additionally, former Rams coach and current Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first six regular-season games of 2012
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised.
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious. When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”
Player suspensions and fines are expected at a later date.
Meanwhile, Goodell said that while the league investigated other potential bounty programs that were brought to light following the NFL’s original report, it found no evidence that establishing other franchises hosting similar programs to New Orleans.
“While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players – including leaders among the defensive players – embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players,” Goodell said.
On March 2, the NFL set forth a wildfire of appall and amazement by releasing findings it says clearly points towards the Saints running a bounty program from 2009-11 under Williams.
The league said that in addition to contributing money to the bounty fund, Williams oversaw record-keeping, determined payout amounts and who got cash, and handed out envelopes with money to players. The NFL said Williams acknowledged he intentionally misled NFL investigators when first questioned in 2010, and didn’t try to stop the bounties.
In all, between 22 and 27 players were involved in the program.
Initiated in 2009, the year the Saints made the Super Bowl, players were getting paid extra money under the table for big plays that included “cart-offs” and knockouts, according to the NFL.
Those plays earned $1,000 and $1,500, respectively, under the system run by Williams, who occasionally put money in the kitty, the NFL alleges.
At some point during that season, the pool reached nearly $50,000, the report says.
The investigation was brought on after the playoffs when the Saints put big hits on both Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and Vikings signal-caller Brett Favre.
When asked by the NFL about whether he had any knowledge of the program, the league says Saints general manager Mickey Loomis claimed he did not, but promised to stop it.
A year later, when the NFL says it made Saints owner Tom Benson aware of pay for performance program, Loomis again was asked to stop the program. Again, the NFL says Loomis made no attempt to halt the practice.
Williams issued a statement nearly immediately after the initial allegations came out, accepting responsibility as well. He has since met with Goodell.
Saints coach Sean Payton, meanwhile, is said to have not directly participated in it. He did, however, fail to stop it by instructing his assistant coaches and players that the program was against league rules.
Since the story came to light, both Loomis and Payton have released a joint statement accepting responsibility and declaring that it won’t happen again.
Additionally, Payton and Benson have both been to New York to visit with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the coach to apologize, the owner to again offer continued cooperation.