Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis should not be heading the New Orleans Saints right now.
The Saints took their first step back toward the NFL’s boondocks this week when news broke that former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a bounty program while with the team for the past three seasons. The worst part is Payton and Loomis allowed it to happen.
Williams pooled money from player fines, among various other illegitimate revenue streams, and redistributed it as rewards for “performance” on the field. In order for a player to receive these illegal bonuses, he would have to complete any number of aggressive tasks, such as knocking out an opposing player or getting an opponent carted off the field.
The bounties are not the real issue here. The under-the-table system isn’t pretty, but it is part of the game and has been for decades.
The real problem lies with Payton and Loomis. Both men were notified of the bounty program soon after its inception, and both failed to stop it. Their boss, Saints owner Tom Benson, specifically requested they put a stop to it in order to avoid trouble with the league, but they turned a blind eye.
Now, after months of NFL investigations, the truth is out, and the organization has a huge black eye that makes Bill Belichick’s shiner from “Spygate” pale in comparison.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will wield his mighty axe and bring it down swiftly on the Saints’ neck, which is left completely unprotected after the ignorance displayed by two of the most important men in the organization. Serious fines will undoubtedly be doled out, along with revocation of draft picks and God knows what else.
This is Goodell’s chance to make his mark, more so than the action he’s taken in incidents such as Belichick’s misbehavior and the general bone-headedness of players who put on the Pittsburgh Steelers uniform.
Needless to say, he’s not going to let this opportunity slip away. The signature aspect of his disciplinary efforts has been safer play on the field, and the bounties given in the Saints’ locker room are in direct conflict with that ideal.
When it comes to Payton, it is a matter of hubris. He is generally considered an angry, irrational man by the media that cover him. Testimonials from CBS’s Mike Freeman and ESPN’s Ashley Fox paint an overarching picture of the coach’s douche-baggery, including taking credentials from reporters for little to no reason and showing up late to Super Bowl media day, an unprecedented offense.
Payton is often documented as a bad man, and this is the worst thing he’s ever done.
What it comes down to is the fact that his boss told him and his pal Loomis to make sure something got done, and they failed. They violated their superior’s trust. They are almost solely responsible for the storm that is going to rain down on New Orleans from the league office.
The Saints’ “Bounty-gate” goes beyond X’s and O’s or wins and losses, into the morally off-kilter grey area carved out by the media post-Paterno. An oft-beleaguered franchise that, since Katrina, has been the darling of the pro sports world now seems to be on the path back to darkness.
Two of the Saints’ biggest leaders should soon be marching out.