NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (right). AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended four players for their participation in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program on Wednesday.
Linebacker Scott Fujita, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who played at Georgia Tech, defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma were notified that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.
Smith and Vilma are arguable the Saints’ top two defenders. Fujita now plays for Cleveland and Hargrove signed with Green Bay this offseason. Smith will be back by the time the Falcons face the Saints in their first meeting on Nov. 11 in New Orleans.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in action (Rusty Costanza/The Times-Picayune)
The bounty program was deemed to endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011. Participation by players in any such program is prohibited by the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, the standard NFL Player Contract, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
- Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2012 regular season. The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for “cart-offs” and “knockouts,” plays during which an opposing player was injured.
- Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 regular season. Hargrove actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints. Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it. The evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target of a large bounty during the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. Hargrove also actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.
- Smith of the Saints is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2012 regular season. Smith, a defensive end, assisted Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the program during a period in which he was a captain and leader of the defensive unit. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for “cart-offs” and “knockouts” of opposing players.
- Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions. The investigation concluded that while a captain of the defensive unit Vilma assisted Coach Williams in establishing and funding the program. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty — $10,000 in cash – to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week (played on January 24, 2010). Vilma is eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.
The Saints signed former Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in free agency. He’ll likely take over for Vilma.
Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect. Each player disciplined today is entitled to appeal the decision within three days. If an appeal is filed, commissioner Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.
“It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced,” commissioner Goodell said. “Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog
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