By Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press –
DETROIT — The Detroit Lions’ playoff prospects improved Wednesday when the NFL handed down significant sanctions to one of the NFC’s best teams — the New Orleans Saints — for running a bounty program on opposing players.
Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the upcoming season, general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant coach Joe Vitt (six) also were suspended, and the team was docked two second-round draft picks and fined $500,000.
“That affects the franchise,” free-agent safety O.J. Atogwe said of Payton’s suspension. “They have a lot of great guys on the team, leadership, so it’s tough to say (how much it will hurt them). It’s hard when you lose your captain, when you lose your general. But I just hope for the best for them and just make the best of this situation because it’s upon them now. The Saints and the Rams. That’s going to affect the Rams as well.”
St. Louis defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for administering and contributing to the bounty pool when he held the same position with New Orleans.
The Saints went 13-3 last year, beat the Lions twice and knocked them out of the playoffs in January. The teams are not scheduled to meet in the regular season this year, but both will be vying for a postseason berth.
Atogwe, who played for the Redskins last season and visited the Lions on Wednesday, believes the unprecedented punishment will go a long way toward ridding the league of bounties for good.
“I think the commissioner’s trying to send a clear message how he wants the people in administration as well as the coaches to conduct themselves if they’re going to be associated with this league,” Atogwe said. “He has the authority and the power to do that, and I pray that it works out for the best.”
Snap judgment: The Lions re-signed another of their free agents Wednesday, bringing long snapper Don Muhlbach back on a one-year deal.
Muhlbach has been the primary snapper since signing midway through the 2004 season, and his return ensures continuity in the kicking game. Kicker Jason Hanson and punters Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham all are signed.
The Lions have signed one free agent off another team this off-season, cornerback Jacob Lacey of the Colts. But they’ve brought back a number of their own players including Graham, Coleman, linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer, left tackle Jeff Backus, and backups Shaun Hill (quarterback) and Andre Fluellen (defensive tackle).