After weeks of speculation, the NFL has handed down the player suspensions from the Saints bounty program, and, in at least one case, it's massive.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was said to have offered $10,000 to knock out Brett Favre in the NFC championship game after the 2009 season, has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, while defensive end Anthony Hargrove has been suspended for eight games, defensive end Will Smith for four games and linebacker Scott Fujita for three games.
According to CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman, all players will appeal their suspensions. Each has three days to do so. The appeal would be heard by commissioner Roger Goodell.
In its release late Wednesday morning, the NFL said, "The specific discipline was determined by Commissioner Roger Goodell after a thorough review of extensive evidence corroborated by multiple independent sources. Under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the standard NFL Player Contract, a player is subject to discipline by the commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL."
"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," Goodell said in the league statement. "Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field."
The NFL acknowledged that more than those four players participated in the program, but the reason Goodell is suspending Vilma, Hargrove, Smith and Fujita is because they "participated at a different and more significant level." Originally, the NFL said 22-27 players had participated. The NFL also said each player had a chance to be interviewed by the league, but each declined to do so.
Said Goodell: "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."
As you know, Sean Payton has been suspended for a year while general manager Mickey Loomis (who also was accused of eavesdropping on other teams in a case unrelated to this issue) got eight games and interim coach Joe Vitt got six. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the Rams, has been suspended indefinitely.
The NFL said the team or individuals from the team have not disputed the NFL's findings.
In its release today, the NFL said Vilma -- who supposedly was expecting to receive a suspension between two and eight games -- received a year-long suspension because he "assisted coach Williams in establishing and funding the program." He also apparently pledged $10,000 to knock out Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in the 2009 divisional playoff game. He's eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.
Hargrove might have saved himself some games -- if not an entire half-season -- by admitting to the bounty in his written statement, but the league also said he "actively obstructed the leagues "2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators." As we have learned, Goodell does not like it when he perceives people are lying to him.
Meanwhile, Fujita and Smith got their suspensions for offering "significant sums to the program pool for 'cart-offs' and 'knockouts' of opposing players."
"No bounty program can exist without active player participation," Goodell said. "The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules."
While I imagine plenty of players will shout that the suspensions are over the line and unfair, at least one player (Chris Kluwe of the Vikings) feels pretty good about it.