Now that the NFL has uncovered a big-money bounty program for players in New Orleans, it likely will zero in on other teams Gregg Williams worked for.
That means the Titans, Redskins, Jaguars and Bills probably should all expect to hear from the league soon.
Williams has admitted and apologized for running a bounty pool of up to $50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players with thousand-dollar payoffs for knocking targeted opponents out of games while he was the Saints’ defensive coordinator.
He will meet Monday with NFL investigators in the New York area, according to two people familiar with the NFL’s investigation of the bounties. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday because details of the continuing investigation are not being disclosed. ESPN first reported the meeting.
“It was a terrible mistake,” Williams said in a statement Friday night shortly after the NFL released the report. “And we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday in an email to the AP that the investigation was far from over and that the league will continue “addressing the issues raised as part of our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game.”
Before joining the Saints, Williams was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Washington and Jacksonville, and the head coach in Buffalo. In January, he was hired by new St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher to lead the defense.
Former Redskins safety Matt Bowen said Williams had a similar bounty scheme when he was in Washington. Former Bills safety Coy Wire told The Buffalo News that an environment of “malicious intent” was in place when he joined the team in 2002 — when Williams was the head coach. Wire said Williams promoted “financial compensation” for hits that injured opponents.
The NFL said payoffs were made by the Saints for inflicting game-ending injuries on targeted players, including quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. “Knockouts” were worth $1,500 and “cart-offs” $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
No punishments have been handed out, but they could include suspensions, fines and loss of draft picks. Several players around the league have said the Saints and Williams weren’t the only ones with such a system.
“I knew they existed,” former All-Pro guard Alan Faneca told the AP. “If I hadn’t heard of it, I guess I just assumed that it went on. I wouldn’t say that I knew of a team that did it all the time, more just in big games.”
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for two games this season for stomping on an opponent and has been fined frequently by the NFL for rough play, insisted Sunday his team had no bounty program.
“I don’t take part in those things and nor do my teammates and nor my coaches. We don’t allow that,” Suh said. “For me, personally, and I know my teammates, we don’t want to put anybody out,” he added. “Especially me, I would never want anybody to target me to take me out, so why would I do it against somebody else?”
Aiello said the NFL would look at “any relevant info regarding rules being broken.”
All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules.
“I’ve been around teams where players put up money for game goals like kickoff tackles inside the 20, 100 yards rushing, defensive turnovers,” said Faneca, who retired last May after playing 13 seasons for Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Arizona.
The NFL also warns teams against such practices before each season.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said of the Saints in a statement Friday. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.”
The league said 22 to 27 defensive players were involved in the program. Its findings were corroborated by multiple, independent sources, and the pool amounts peaked in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The 49ers were surprised when the Saints called 18 first-half blitzes in the teams’ exhibition opener last August, won 24-3 by the Saints in the Superdome. New Orleans sacked the San Francisco QBs six times: two on Alex Smith and four against backup rookie Colin Kaepernick.
One Saints player fined last season for flagrant hits was safety Roman Harper. In Week 14 against Tennessee, he made two hits that drew a total of $22,500 in fines.
Harper was fined $15,000 for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit, and another $7,500 for unnecessary roughness when he pulled down receiver Damian Williams by his helmet after a long catch and run. The tackle likely stopped Williams from scoring, and Gregg Williams defended Harper’s aggressiveness on that play after the game.
“If that guy doesn’t want his head tore off, duck. Because that’s how we’re playing. He needs to duck, OK? And that is exactly what you have to do,” Williams said. “One of the things about playing in this league is that your mental toughness, your physical toughness, all that kind of stuff works hand in hand. And I love Roman Harper and the way he plays, and evidently a lot of other people and players in the league do, too, because they keep on voting him to the Pro Bowl.”
AP Sports Writers Rick Freeman and Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York, Janie McCauley in San Francisco, and John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.