By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times –
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday upheld the original suspensions he slapped on New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and linebackers coach Joe Vitt for their roles in the team’s three-season-long bounty program.
Payton is banned for the season, Loomis will miss half the season and Vitt is suspended for six games.
The commissioner has yet to impose penalties on the 22 to 27 players who reportedly participated in former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ bounty operation, which offered cash to players who hurt opponents or knocked them from games.
The players will be dealt with “soon,” according to a football official unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, but the league is declining to provide a timetable.
The players’ union has retained an international law firm, Fulbright & Jaworski, to represent its accused players. League and union officials reportedly met last week to discuss the upcoming punishments.
An audiotape emerged last week with Williams urging his players to “kill the head and the body will die,” before a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, specifically targeting 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Williams, now the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator, is banned indefinitely.
Goodell heard appeals from Payton, Loomis and Vitt on Friday, considered their cases during the weekend and opted not to reduce their sentences.
The Saints have been in discussions with two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells to replace Payton this season.
The team has been fined $500,000 and lost second-round picks in the next two drafts.
Payton’s suspension begins April 16. Loomis’ and Vitt’s start at the end of the preseason, the league said. Goodell maintains the power to reinstate them as scheduled, or not.
The league also has discretion to consider the Saints’ response to this discipline and weigh how the team performs in the 2012 season before possibly modifying the currently lost 2013 second-round pick.
“If they embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way, Commissioner Goodell said he would consider mitigating the financial penalties on the individuals,” an NFL statement read.
For instance, if the Saints exhibit an impressive response to what the league assesses as egregious behavior, and then the team suffers through a losing season, the NFL could opt to give the Saints extra picks in the third and sixth or fourth and fifth rounds.