(CBS/AP) Now that the NFL has lowered the bounty boom on the New Orleans Saints, two questions linger: Will any of the players be punished and who will coach the team next season?
After suspending head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, Commissioner Roger Goodell will turn his attention to possible punishments for two dozen or so defensive players the league's investigation found were involved in the extra payouts that he called "particularly unusual and egregious" and "totally unacceptable."
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."It remains unclear if players involved in the hits-for-cash program face a suspension, fine or both.
The league is reviewing the case with the NFL Players Association before deciding what to do about players who were part of the Saints' scheme from 2009-11.
"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.
Targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs."Those players who have been clearly identified who participated in the bounty program, there will be some punishment forthcoming," NFL Today host James Brown told CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley Wednesday night.
According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game. The Saints were flagged for roughing Favre twice in that game, and the league later said they should have received another penalty for a brutal high-low hit from Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray that hurt Favre's ankle. He was able to finish the game, but the Saints won in overtime en route to the franchise's only Super Bowl.
"The bounty thing is completely unprofessional. I'm happy the league has made it known it won't be tolerated," said left tackle Jordan Gross, Newton's teammate on the Carolina Panthers. "To think that something like that would happen guys trying to hurt someone to make a few extra bucks is just appalling. I mean we have a lot on the line, every single one of us. ... You don't want to see anyone taken out a game."
All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently just not on the same scale as was found in New Orleans.
In a memo to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell ordered owners to make sure their clubs are not offering bounties now. Each club's principal owner and head coach must certify in writing by March 30 that no pay-for-performance system exists.
Payton is the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, while Loomis is believed to be the only GM to be. Goodell also suspended assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
The Saints now must decide who will coach the team in Payton's place his suspension takes effect April 1 and who will make roster moves while Loomis is out. There was no immediate word from the Saints, but two candidates to take over coaching duties are defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. Spagnuolo has NFL head coaching experience; Carmichael does not, but has been with the club since 2006.