1. The Saints defensive team operated a pay-for-performance/bounty program, primarily funded by players, during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons. Under that program, players regularly made cash “donations” to a pool, and were “fined” for mental errors, loafing, penalties, and the like. At least one assistant coach (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) also occasionally contributed to the pool. There is no evidence that any club money was contributed to the program.
2. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries. All such payments are against league rules. Payments also were made for plays on which opposing players were injured. In addition, specific players were sometimes targeted. The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams – Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner. Multiple sources have confirmed that several players pledged funds toward bounties on specific opposing players, with defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offering $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
3. Coach Williams acknowledged that he designed and implemented the program with the assistance of certain defensive players. He said that he did so after being told by Saints Head Coach Sean Payton that his assignment was to make the defense “nasty.” Coach Williams described his role as overseeing record keeping, defining payout amounts, deciding on who received payouts, and distributing envelopes with cash to players who “earned” rewards.
4. In each of the 2009-2011 seasons, the Saints were one of the top five teams in the league in roughing the passer penalties. In 2009 and 2011, the Saints were also in the top five teams in unnecessary roughness penalties; in 2010, the Saints ranked sixth in the category. In the January 16, 2010 divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saints defensive players were assessed $15,000 in fines for fouls committed against opposing players. The following week, in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, Saints defensive players were assessed $30,000 in fines for four separate illegal hits, several of which were directed against quarterback Brett Favre.
5. Coach Williams now acknowledges that when he was first questioned about this matter in early 2010 he intentionally misled NFL investigators and made no effort to stop the program after he became aware of the league’s investigation.
6. Coach Williams further confirmed that the program continued during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and that he occasionally contributed funds to the pool in each of those seasons.
7. Assistant Head Coach/Defense Joe Vitt acknowledged that he was aware of the program in 2009-2011. He admitted that, when interviewed in 2010, he “fabricated the truth” to NFL investigators and denied that any pay-for-performance or bounty program existed at the Saints.
8. Coach Vitt said one of his primary roles was to monitor the activity of Coach Williams. This was based on the direction of Coach Payton, who apparently had less than full confidence in Coach Williams. Despite Coach Vitt’s knowledge of the bounty program, his understanding of the terms “knock-out” and “cart-off,” his witnessing Coach Williams handing out envelopes that he believed to contain cash, and his acknowledgement that the defensive meeting preceding the 2010 NFC Championship Game may have “got out of hand” with respect to Brett Favre, Coach Vitt claimed he never advised either Coach Payton or General Manager Mickey Loomis of the “pay-for-performance/bounty” program.
9. A summary prepared following a Saints preseason game included the statement, “1 Cart-off – Crank up the John Deer (sic) Tractor” in reference to a hit on an opposing player. Similar statements are reflected in prepared documents or slides in connection with other games in multiple seasons. A review of the game films confirms that opposing players were injured on the plays identified in the documents.
10. When interviewed in 2012, Sean Payton claimed to be entirely unaware of the program, a claim contradicted by others. Further, prior to the Saints’ opening game in 2011, Coach Payton received an email from a close associate that stated in part, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic).” When shown the email during the course of the investigation, Coach Payton stated that it referred to a “bounty” on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
11. In early 2010, Mr. Loomis advised Coach Payton that the league office was investigating allegations concerning a bounty program. Coach Payton said that he met with his top two defensive assistants, Coach Williams and Coach Vitt, in advance of the interview with league investigators and told them, “Let’s make sure our ducks are in a row.” Remarkably, Coach Payton claimed that he never inquired of Coach Williams and Coach Vitt as to what happened in the interviews, never asked them if a “pay-for-performance” or bounty program was in fact in place, and never gave any instructions to discontinue such a program.
12. In January 2012, prior to the Saints’ first playoff game of the 2011 season, Coach Payton was advised by Mr. Loomis that the league office had reopened the investigation. Coach Payton made a cursory inquiry but took no action to ensure that any bounty program was discontinued.
13. General Manager Mickey Loomis was not present at meetings of the Saints defense at which bounties were discussed and was not aware of bounties being placed on specific players. Mr. Loomis became aware of the allegations regarding a bounty program no later than February 2010 when he was notified of the investigation into the allegations during a meeting with NFL Executive Vice President-Football Operations Ray Anderson. He was directed to ensure that any such program ceased immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis did not do enough to determine if a pay-for-performance/bounty program existed or to end any such program that did exist.
14. Saints owner Tom Benson notified Mr. Loomis in January 2012 prior to the team’s participation in the playoffs that the league’s investigation had been reopened. Mr. Benson reiterated his position that a bounty program was unacceptable and instructed Mr. Loomis to ensure that if a bounty program existed at the Saints it would stop immediately. By his own admission, Mr. Loomis responded to this direction by making only cursory inquiries of Coaches Payton and Williams. He never issued instructions to end the bounty program to either the coaching staff or the players.
15. There is no evidence that Saints ownership had any knowledge of the pay-for-performance or bounty program. There is no evidence that any club funds were used for the program. Ownership made clear that it disapproved of the program, gave prompt and clear direction that it stop, and gave full and immediate cooperation to league investigators.
With that said this is a total bummer for Saints fans. The fans are very much being punished but it’s something that is unavoidable. The rules were broken and there are consequences for their actions. I like the Saints. I think they, not the Cowboys, are the new “America’s Team”. And if the Saints were my team I would be heart broken. Sean Payton is one of the best in the business but Roger Goodell would have made an example out of any team this happened to. I feel for the Saints fans, I’d be inconsolable.