The Not so Saintly Saints

As we look forward to another season of NFL football, we’re in the most unpredictable time in recent NFL history. The Saints, in 2006, were a team that was looking for a new identity, and they were trying to find that identity during a time of chaos and uncertainty. Hurricane Katrina had just devastated the city of New Orleans, and some were looking to the Saints to be a bright spot in an otherwise hopeless environment. During that time, the Saints acquired new head coach Sean Payton, and became exactly that. The Saints looked promising, with their high octane offense that featured the electric Drew Brees. However, despite their explosive offense, the Saints were unable to solidify their reputation as an elite team, largely due to their struggling, “soft,” defense. To fix those negative defensive perceptions, the Saints decided they needed a new Defensive Coordinator, one that would bring an attitude of toughness to the team, and that man was Gregg Williams.

Sean Payton wanted Williams so badly that he actually paid for part of Williams’s contract out of pocket. Good thing too, because the fit was perfect. The Saints became a blitzing machine and were soon 2nd in the league in turnovers. This new, aggressive defense, accompanied by the already explosive offense, led the Saints to a Super Bowl Championship over the Colts in 2009. The future of the Saints looked bright and Gregg Williams seemed to be the man that could finally pull the Saints defense together.

But then, rumblings of a bounty system came to the media’s attention, and the Saints’ world would never be the same.

The Saints were accused of having a system that encouraged players to intentionally injure some of the NFL’s top players, through monetary rewards. They even had a reward for a “cart off,” which is when a player is so badly hurt that they can’t leave the field under their own power, and thus have to be taken off in a cart. This gives you an idea of how committed Williams was to changing the perception that the Saints had a “soft” defense. When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell first heard about these allegations, he was quick to try to find answers. He met countless times with the Saints, and warned Sean Payton that there can be no more reward system. Unfortunately, Sean Payton did not heed the Commissioner’s advice, and as a result, the Saints were hit with penalties that were among the harshest in NFL history.

Roger Goodell made it clear to the Saints and other NFL teams that they were not to “cross the boss,” and he struck with an iron fist. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was given with a 1 year suspension and would lose out on around $5 million dollars. The team was fined half a million dollars, and their two second round picks for the next two seasons were revoked. The General Manager Mickey Loomis was also suspended for 8 games. As for Gregg Williams, the man who is considered responsible for the Saints bounty system, he faced most severe punishment of all. Williams was suspended indefinitely, and there is the possibility that he may never again work in the NFL.

The Saints were the ultimate underdogs, they came from a city of dispair and rose above it to become 2009 Super Bowl Champions, and a beacon of hope for New Orleans. Now, the future of the Saints looks uncertain, at best. It will be interesting see how the Saints handle the absence of their leader on the field, Head Coach Sean Payton, and the absence of their leader off the field, General Manager Mickey Loomis. There are rumors of former coaching legend Bill Parcells, who coached teams such as the Giants, Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys, coming in for a year to help the Saints. I believe this would be a good fit because of the friendly relationship and experiences that Sean Payton and Bill Parcells have together.  As an NFL legend, Bill Parcells would bring stability to a team that right now is anything but stable. However, even a coach like Parcells would have a hard time finding success considering the harsh environment that is surrounding the Saints organization. Also, things could get a whole lot worse if the talked about suspensions of players who had a hand in the system end up being carried out. The Saints seem to know that something big is coming with the signing of former Atlanta MLB Curtis Lofton as a potential replacement for Jonathan Vilma if he ends up getting suspended.

There is no question that the NFL is a physical league and I am sure that the Saints weren’t the first team to have a bounty system in place, but that doesn’t make it ok, and the NFL needed to make an example out of them as a warning to other teams. I applaud the NFL’s aggressive approach and feel like they did what was necessary  in order to send a message that they will not tolerate lying and intentionally trying injure players. With all the research on concussions and the lasting effects football injuries can have, we’re in an era where safety needs to be a priority in order to ensure the longevity of the National Football League.

Shocking audio from Gregg Williams, likely crushing their chances at any appeal:

Author: Dan Stone