Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will watch the 2012 NFL season from the comfort of his den after landing on the business end of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s wrath over the “Bountygate” scandal that has engulfed the Saints off-season. The league announced Wednesday that four defensive players — two former Saints and a pair on the current roster including Vilma — will face suspensions without pay for their role in the pay-for-pain bounty system that has already led to the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton and multi-game suspensions of General Manager Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt.
Vilma, who reportedly was a ringleader in the bounty program under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who is in an indefinite suspension) suffered the harshest punishment: the entire 2012 season. Defensive end Will Smith was handed a four-game suspension, while former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now a Cleveland Brown, will sit out the first three games and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove will miss the first eight games of 2012.
The suspended players have three days to file an appeal, which would be heard by the very person who levied the punishment — Goodell. The commissioner declined to alter the punishment handed down against Payton, who appealed his suspension last month.
According to the NFL press release Wednesday:
“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,” Commissioner Goodell said. “Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.”
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.
Read the full release here.