NFL details evidence against suspended players in bounty scandal

The NFL laid out its case against four players suspended today by commissioner Roger Goodell in the bounty scandal that has rocked the New Orleans Saints.

The NFLPA has said it has still yet to receive specific evidence in a pay-to-injure scheme and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the players are not going to accept the punishments without a fight and likely legal action.

But Goodell rejected appeals by the Saints, coaches involved and general manager Mickey Loomis. And it is very hard to imagine the players winning an appeal. What direction legal action could head, who knows?

The NFL said linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita and defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith were suspended “as a result of their leadership roles in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011.”

The league cites that Fujita, who has been suspended for three games, “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, was suspended for eight games because he “actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints” and “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.” Per the league, Hargrive “actively obstructed” the investigation in 2010 by being untruthful.

Smith received a four-game suspension as he is accused of assisting “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.”

Finally, Vilma received the biggest blow. He was suspended for the entire 2012 season. The NFL says Vilma “assisted 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.”

Vilma’s suspension begins immediately. He is eligible to be reinstated following the Super Bowl.

“In assessing player discipline,” Goodell said. “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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