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Bounty Hunting in the NFL is an Old Practice

Updated on February 8, 2013
Brett Farve gets carted off of the field after being injured in an NFL game.
Brett Farve gets carted off of the field after being injured in an NFL game. | Source

The NFL has announced via an investigation by its security team that there is substantial evidence that the New Orleans Saints were guilty of bounty hunting under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, head coach Sean Payton, and general manager Mickey Loomis over the past few seasons including 2009, the year they won the Super Bowl. There were large pools of money that were offered to those who could produce game ending injuries to key players such as Brett Farve and Kurt Warner among others. But this begs the question, are they the only teams who are doing this, or are there others who have done it over the past few decades? The answer is clearly no and yes.

Adrian Peterson, who was recently the victim, and I use the word victim here purposefully, of an intentional injury to his knee, even stated as such. Teams were trying to hurt him on a regular basis. However, it was not just the Saints.

The NFL Bounty Rule states that teams are essentially not allowed to intentionally hurt other players. It also states that these practices are punishable. Further, it tries to discourage the pay to harm systems that have been shown to be in use in years past. The whole point of this is to promote the competitive integrity of the game and the safety of the players who play in an already violent sport.

The Saints could face fines, suspensions, and even the loss of draft picks in future drafts to those whom they were found guilty of harming. However, that would be no consolation to the players who had to suffer the injuries to begin with.

The Saints were not the only team that has been shown to be guilty of this though. Back in 2008, the Washington Redskins admitted as such. Interestingly, Williams, the defensive coordinator now found to be guilty, was with the Redskins at the time as well. Additionally, according to a story on Cbssports.com, Tony Dungy put out a statement in September 2011 saying that he can trace Peyton Manning's neck injury, that may force him to retire from the league, all the way back to a game against the Redskins and a Williams-led defense way back in 2006.

This is not good for Gregg Williams and his future. He will surely be a big target in the penalties handed down by the league with all of the various incidents he has been the "ringleader" of. He even admitted that he knew what he was doing was wrong at the time. Yet, he still continued to do it.

Believe this though, these are not the only two teams who have engaged in this practice. In 1989, the Thanksgiving Day game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys was dubbed "The Bounty Bowl" because of allegations that Philadelphia had a bounty on the Cowboys' kicker as well as Dallas', then rookie quarterback,Troy Aikman. This caused this game to become the first of three heated contests the second and third of which were dubbed, "The Bounty Bowl II" later in the 89' season and the "Porkchop Bowl" during the 1990 season.

Also in 1990, when Buddy Ryan (father of Rex and Rob) was the head coach of the Eagles he promised that players would be "Carted off in body bags". Thus causing the game to be dubbed, "The Body Bag Game". Unsurprisingly, eight players were carted off of the field with major injuries that day. It was so bad, that then rookie running back/returner and former quarterback Brian Mitchell had to finish the game under center for the Redskins, a team who would later become guilty of the same practice.

Believe it, these are not the only instances in the NFL and they will not be the last either. Brett Farve, one of the targets of the practice shrugged it off by saying "It's football". What does that tell you? It is a sad part of the game that will die slowly, if ever. The Saints are now the most recent team to get caught, but you had better believe they won't be the last, nor are they the only team engaging in this old time practice that will most likely continue as long as football does. Even if the money goes away, guys will do it for free, as physical punishment is a part of the game.

UPDATE: Roger Goodell has dropped the proverbial hammer on the Saints organization as well as the coaches and general manager who were involved in this episode. This is probably not only a result of the action, but an attempt to mislead Goodell who opened the investigation a few years back, but could not proceed because there was no evidence at the time corroborating the charges.Additionally, Goodell is privately reported to be extremely unhappy with this mess in wake of all of the multi million dollar lawsuits filed against the NFL by former players over head injuries.

Former defensive coordinator Greg Williams who also ran this type of shop in Washington and probably Buffalo, was suspended indefinitely. One has to think he will get a suspension at least as long as head coach Sean Payton.

Head coach Sean Payton received a one year suspension. His suspension will take effect April 1, which will hinder the Saints not just for this year, but also next due to the fact that he will miss the free agency period as well as most of the time leading up to the 2013 NFL draft. This will also cost Payton a whopping 7 million dollars with the loss of his salary for next season.

Assistant Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for 6 games for his role in the process. He was also fined 100,000 dollars.

General manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for 8 games. He was also fined 500,000 dollars for his role.

The Saints organization was fined 500,000 dollars. It was also hit with the loss of 2 second round picks. One will come in this year's draft. One will come in 2013. This will mean that the Saints will not be selecting until the third round of the 2012 draft since they had traded their first round pick to New England for the rights to the draft pick they used on running back Mark Ingram. The loss of picks coming in the second round instead of the first probably partly had to do with the fact that New England, an innocent bystander in this episode, owned the Saints first rounder which would have been forfeited had Goodell chosen to take away picks in the first round.

Appeals are probably on the way, but unless they can prove they were not guilty, they are looking at these stiff punishments. Sean Payton has acknowledged them and taken full responsibility, yet don't be surprised if he appeals anyway. What does he have to lose except respect anyway?

When it is all said and done, the Saints and their coaches will end up paying the price of close to 9 million dollars in lost wages and fines along with the loss of two high draft picks. One word...OUCH!

Second Update:

Sean Payton has reportedly asked Bill Parcells to take over as interim head coach. Parcells said he would seriously consider it. What a change of style this would be.

Appeals have been filed by several individuals including Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis, but they are doomed to failure. Now audio has come out about Gregg Williams telling his players to injure 49ers players. This will most likely ensure that Williams will never coach in the NFL again and will become the poster child for NFL bounty hunting even though he was only the latest in a long line of coaches who condoned this as previously outlined.

Third Update:

The NFL has swiftly denied the appeals of head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis. This was not unexpected. It would have been bigger news if they had actually legitimately considered them.

One of the targets of the bounty program, quarterback Kurt Warner, tweeted two days ago that he did not think that Gregg WIlliams should be banned for life. He basically said everyone deserves a second chance. Both Farve and Warner have stated publicly that they thought the way teams played them was just a part of football and did not much care about the supposed violations. With the actual history of bounty hunting in the NFL outlined in this article it is not hard to understand why they felt it was just a part of the game as it has been for decades.

Fourth Update:

Bill Parcells will not be taking over the Saints for one year. Sean Payton has selected Joe Vitt as the interim head coach. Either way, he had to choose someone who would not be a threat to his job security. Parcells, at 71 years of age, was exactly that, no threat. Not only is much older than the last time he coached, but he has never been the type to stay in one place too long, with the exception of his first head coaching position in his prime with the New York Giants. Joe Vitt, though, is a strange choice considering he can not even coach for the more than 1/3 of the season.

Next season, will be a difficult one for New Orleans. One in which they may suffer a serious drop off. Not only will they have two interim coaches, they will not have a draft selection until the third round. They will also be under severe scrutiny on every play. Further, Drew Brees may not report until mid season as he is extremely unhappy about being slapped with the franchise tag. Even if he does work out a long term deal, things will be rough for the Saints.

Sean Payton has begun his year long suspension. It began this past week and will continue until right before the 2013 draft.

This story is still not finished yet, as player suspensions, fines, and possibly criminal charges may be on the way. Stay tuned as this one could get even messier.

Fifth Update:

Roger Goodell has finished making each NFL team certify that they are "Bounty Free" by signing affidavits, so that the league can more easily punish any team found guilty in the future. Will this stop the practice? Probably not. What it will most likely do is change the face of bounty hunting, that will probably become a more underground phenomenon that may not be rewarded with cash, but rather rewarded by players in a secret fashion. That way it will not be an organized effort by teams and will allow them to bring the plausible deniability factor to the table should it be shown to happen again on their watch.

Player sanctions are still forthcoming. This will probably happen after the draft is over.

In another twist of fate, this investigation into the Saints organization has now produced another possible scandal, a SPYGATE II if you will. Except in this case instead of video taping, it allegedly involved the Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis, eavesdropping on opposing coaches. Federal and State law enforcement are now looking into the situation, which Loomis claims is "1000 percent false!". Regardless, even if it is true, Loomis would be clear of any legal ramifications because of the statute of limitations. However, he would not be free from more sanctions by Roger Goodell, who is bound by no such limitations.

This could get a lot messier than anyone previously thought. This has to be considered the worst off season by any club in the history of the NFL by a long shot!

Sixth Update: As previously mentioned in this article player suspensions were forthcoming, most likely after the draft. Well, the draft is over and now they have arrived. Four players have been suspended without pay in 2012. Their sentences are varying ranging from 3 game up to 1 full season. These players include LB Scott Fujita, who is now with the Browns (3 games), Anthony Hargrove, who is now with Green Bay (8 games), Will Smith (4 games), and Jonathan Vilma (1 full season).

This story is not finished. Mickey Loomis is still under investigation by the NFL for eavesdropping, so this could still get messier.

It appears almost everything predicted in this article has come to pass. It is still likely this will continue in an underground fashion most likely between players who will try to honor a code of silence. The name might change, but the practice will most likely continue.

Check back for further updates as they roll in. This is not over yet.

Seventh Update:

The NFLPA has filed a grievance with the league over the disputed power of Roger Goodell's authority to suspend any players for conduct that occurred before the new CBA agreement was reached in August 4, 2011. It appears the league has already agreed not to file suit against players who had detrimental conduct before that time.

Some say this is a shaky case. Others this could be an interesting and valid point by the NFLPA whose job it is to protect the players against injustices by the league. Time will tell. Stay tuned...

Eighth Update:

This story and related stories just won't die. This has to be the number one story of all time in the NFL as it relates to it's duration and link to further side stories. This reminds me of "The White House" scandal out of Dallas a few years back. Except this seems to be getting worse and a lot more attention from the league.

Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter came out and said "I put bounties on guys before". He admitted that during his playing days when he felt a guy was trying to hurt him intentionally or threatened him that he employed his teammates to protect him and to get revenge on certain players. This makes sense considering the lack of protection players had during his playing days, which were not that long ago. This also further proves the original storyline I put out when the story broke, that plenty of teams have been engaged in this and it will most likely continue to happen whether above or underground if you will.

Chad Ochocinco, who calls Goodell Dad, released an interesting letter related to the violence of the game saying he wasn't sure if there was any solution to the problem as the league continues to get sued by almost 1,200 former NFL players who are claiming the NFL covered up their injuries on the field. The whole Junior Seau suicide has not helped matters in the slightest as it has reopened debate on the effects of football and Goodell and the NFL definitely are not happy about this scandal in light of those other issues as it does not help their case.

Johnathan Vilma has also helped continue this story line by suing Roger Goodell for defamation. This could get ugly and costly for both sides. This will also help continue this storyline. If Vilma wins, it could pave the way for other lawsuits. If he loses, it could cost him a lot more including respect and harsher future punishments by the man he is suing.

This is not the last one will hear of this initial story. Stay tuned for yet another update.

Do you think the fines and penalties handed down by Goodell were too harsh?

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    • profile image

      Bernard 5 years ago

      I think that it is laughable, as a player and fan of the game, I am aware of instances when Players that are hurt from falling out of bed, if they play in the game, that particular injury becomes a focus. I know it the coaches, the referee, the league and the commissioner knows it. An ankle a knee, how many commentators can be heard saying make him run, get him to throw off his back leg. In my opinion, this is no difference. If a coach blitzes a team 50 times a game some one is going to get hurt. Blitzes are implemented to focus on the passer or the runner, eventually someone is going to get hurt. Before this it was a great plan, now you question whether a bounty is in play. We apply for jobs based on what they pay, if you can perform, and if you are willing to to deal with the consequence. Example you don't apply for pilot if you are afraid to fly. And if you fly there is no guarantee your plan don't crash regardless of how much maintenance is done. I just wish as a business the nfl would not allow someone to participate if they are not ready for the possibilities

    • braxtonkp8497 profile image

      braxtonkp8497 5 years ago from PA

      Football is a game of violence and there is really no way around it. If we are honest with ourselves, it is really the reason we watch fotball in the first place. Yeah, I know we like to se the long runs and the laser passes, and the last second FG in the wind and snow, but reallyh we watch because we like to see people get hit hard. all of the clips that we love are people getting hit hard. sometimes they, most of the time, they get up and play the next play. sometimes they don't, that is just the game. Sometimes they get hurt in warmups.

      The objection to the bounty, at least the way i see it is that players were getting paid extra, or as Warren Sapp put it "gas money" for doing what they were gonna do any way. The NFL will no doubt come down hard on Williams, Payton, and the Saints for the program and maybe they should, but they won't stop the hits that we love. The fines they levy on the like of James Harrison have not stopped them. And for us, the fans, the ones who shell out billions, and waste countless Sundays hoping our teams can win one more for the gipper, I hope the big hits keep on coming, bounty or not.

    • profile image

      agoodknowcall 5 years ago

      In concurrence with Bernard and braxtonkp8497 hitting hard is what this game is all about. In boxing, if the opposing competitor has a previous injury whether it is a cut, shoulder, knuckle, left or right vision weakness, "glass jaw", leg, knee, ankle or something "below the belt"; the injury is targeted and exploited. If it is an illegal act to deliver the blow "below the belt" it is the referee's duty to enforce "fair play" whether (or not) there was an incentive to deliver the illegal blow. If it is allowed as fair and within the rules in real time scrutiny by referees, media and those within the NFL was it not?

      What is intended for the referees who "overlooked" these now "flagrant" and "illegal" bounty hits?

      Why are the refs above the investigation?

      I would ask Roger Goodell the obvious question, why were all of these "illegal" hits not penalized?

      Why were they allowed?

      Has anyone else asked this question?

      After all it must have entered the minds of others (it should have?) closer to Goodell, did they inquire or were they hushed?

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