Given that it’s the off-season and the March Madness is just warming up, I won’t chide you for being unfamiliar with Bounty-gate. But if you really call yourself a football fan, you should be aware–it’s eclipsed Peyton Manning’s future as the biggest NFL story right now. Essentially, the story broke last Friday, that the New Orleans Saints, under the direction of Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, were offering monetary rewards for injuring opposing players, with a specific goal of having those players “carted off the field” and unable to return to the game.
First of all, aside from being despicable, paying someone to physically harm another person is downright illegal, isn’t it? So that’s the black and white argument. It’s wrong, and dozens of people within the Saints organization should be punished for implementing, condoning or turning a blind eye toward it. Period.
But then you have to consider some gray areas. Going back through the 2009-2011 seasons (for which the allegations are being made), it sounds like there are at least a handful of hits that can be pinpointed as ones for which money was likely rewarded (specifically, at least one each against Brett Favre and Kurt Warner in playoff games.) I haven’t gone back and watched those replays, but from what I understand, they were clean, albeit hard, hits. And aren’t tackles and sacks key metrics upon which defensive players are evaluated? And if a defender goes after the opposition with anything less than 100% intensity, doesn’t he risk missing the tackle or sack? The hard hits and rough tackles are also the ones that make the highlight reels and garner the fans’ respect, and the Saints’ weren’t playing exceptionally dirty or after the whistle, so, in many ways, we were already rewarding them for the same performance.
Last season I had a debate with a Cowboys-fan friend of mine about the ethics of defenders purposefully inflicting injury on the opposing team. Prior to the September Redskins/Cowboys match-up, DeAngelo Hall had come out and said he wanted to get his “helmet into Romo’s [fractured] ribs.” While a stupid, impetuous things to say, it’s not uncommon for players to go after spots where they know it hurts. It’s a defender’s job to make the opposing offensive players “hear footsteps.” A scared offense creates turnovers. Period.
I am in no way defending what the Saints were doing here–intentionally trying to injure a fellow player, and rewarding someone for doing so, is wrong. However, I also think this happens to be a raw, ugly expose of the base brutality underlying the sport. Roger Goodell has made it clear that the safety of NFL players is a top priority, which I think is a good thing. There’s no question he’s going to come down hard on the Saints, but this is a violation that can be investigated and punished on multiple depths, the deepest of which might wholly change the character of the game.
It’s likely to take some time for the full investigation to take place and the punishments to be decided upon, and the season doesn’t open until 6 months from today, so a lot can happen between now and then, but, if I had to make some predictions now, here are some fantasy issues we could be looking at:
1. Stay away from the Saints defense in the ’12 season. This is probably an obvious one. With up to 27 Saints players implicated in this scandal, including defensive stalwart Jonathan Vilma, and each of them possibly facing multiple weeks of suspension, it’s hard to imagine where they’ll find players to fill all these holes. On top of that, they traded their 1st round draft pick to New England (for Mark Ingram), so if draft pick confiscation is included in the punishment (which it seems likely to be), they will probably lose several later round picks, further inhibiting their ability to field a team. I’m telling you, if you ever dreamed of leveling Tony Romo, now might be your chance! The Cowboys are on the Saints schedule this year, and it’s looking likely you could have a shot at walk-on tryouts for their defense. (Just don’t expect to get rewarded for said leveling; the personal gratification will have to be enough.)
2. The Gregg Williams Taint. This scandal reaches beyond the Saints to anyone that was in the dirtball Gregg Williams’ path. The Redskins and Bills will also be investigated. However, the whistle-blower clearly came from the Saints organization, and it’s said they have hundreds of pages of evidence against the Saints, but nothing so solid against the Skins or Bills. Still, you’re naive to think it wasn’t happening on any team Williams was involved with (and other teams for that matter, but Williams is the focus here), so don’t be surprised if fines, suspensions and (possibly) lost draft picks extend beyond the Saints. Then, of course, there’s also the implication of what will happen to Williams’ new team, the Rams? Williams could be looking at a suspension of 10 games or up to a full season. Who knows?
3. The Sean Payton Factor. This one breaks my heart. I love Sean Payton. There’s nothing to suggest he’s implicit in this scandal, but, sadly, his hands sure aren’t clean either. There’s a chance that Payton will be suspended for multiple games also, which is bad news for the entire team. Last year, two of the Saints’ three losses came when Payton had to call the game from the booth, due to his MCL tear. Sean Payton is a great coach, and the Saints need him on the sidelines. A multiple game suspension would hurt the team on both sides of the ball.
4. oh, yeah, and Drew Brees. If my gut were a Magic Eight Ball, and I were asking it “should I have Drew Brees on my team next year?” (which I am), it would be answering me “all signs point to no.” Consider this: a) he’s already coming off a monster year, which, as a rule, makes me worried it will be tough to repeat, which leads me to think he’ll be overvalued in drafts (ie, Michael Vick 2011); b) the Saints aren’t willing to pay him what he’s worth. The monster year came in a contract year, as of last week he still hadn’t come to an agreement with the team, so the Saints slapped the franchise tag on him to avoid getting competitive bids. I like to think Drew Brees isn’t the “sour grapes” type, but, still…. And, c) a bad defense always brings down a good offense. It’s always tough for one side of the ball to have the complete onus on them to win a game. Granted, Drew Brees’ offense is one that you’d expect to be able to carry a team, but not over a stretch of the season. To top that off, the longer the opposing team’s offense is able to stay on the field, the less opportunity Drew Brees and his offense will have to score fantasy points! This is really hard for me…Drew Brees is my BOY, but I may have to consider walking away from him this year.
That said, there’s a lot that can and will happen before this decisions have to actually be made, but I’m filing it away in my “issues to consider” folder for now….