May 3, 2012

Fujita, Hargrove, Smith, Vilma Suspended in Bounty Penalties

The Saints evaded the heaviest of Roger Goodell's hits on Wednesday when the player suspensions for the team's bounty scandal and coverup were levied.

  • Current Saints starting MLB Jonathan Vilma was suspended for one year, effective immediately.
  • Former Saint, current Packer DL Anthony Hargrove was suspended for eight games.
  • Current Saints starting RDE Will Smith was suspended for four games.
  • Former Saint, current Browns OLB Scott Fujita was suspended for three games.

All but Hargrove declined to participate in the NFL's investigation into the bounty scandal.

The NFL report said:
The evidence conclusively demonstrated that from 2009-2011 Saints players of their own accord pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties, that players accepted payments for “cart-offs” and “knockouts” of injured opposing players, and that the payout amounts doubled and tripled for playoff games.

Commissioner Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints’ non-player employees, that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level.

Hargrove told investigators that when questioned in 2010, he was told to lie.  He identified the person who told him to lie, but that person was not identified to the media today.  Lawyer Mary Jo White disclosed that information about Hargrove's involvement in a conference call with the media.

Vilma's suspension is effective immediately, while Smith will only be suspended for four games and can participate in the preseason.  Vilma's suspension is eligible to end after the Super Bowl.

Vilma and Smith have appealed the suspension, staying the penalties for now.  The length of the appeal could delay the penalties beyond this season if a legal battle ensues.

Considering that as many as 26 current and former Saints were initially implicated in the bounty scandal, the penalties strike the Saints team less than seriously.  The loss of Vilma's playing time will be amply covered by the free agent additions Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, but his veteran leadership and intelligence will be  missed.  The installation of a new defense under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo perhaps tempers that.

The loss of Will Smith strikes more severely - the Saints will enter the season with the same scenario as in 2011.  Then, Smith served a two suspension for the years-old Starcaps case, and started rookie Cameron Jordan, free agent addition Turk McBride, and used young reserves Junior Gallette and Jeff Charleston heavily.

This year the Saints would enter Smith's suspension with roughly the same cast, substituting Charleston for 2011 seventh round draft pick Greg Romeus.

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