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There was plenty of speculation as to what the exact punishment would be for the New Orleans Saints 'bountygate' scandal -- an added dynamic being NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's strong stance on player safety -- and needless to say, it wasn't just a slap on the wrist.
According to an extensive NFL investigation, the Saints, and specifically former defensive coordinator Greg Williams, conducted a pay-for-injury program, in which players were given financial incentives for injuring opposing players. Head coach Sean Payton was aware that the program was in place, but failed to stop the known illegal activities. The same goes for New Orleans general manager, Mickey Loomis, who also failed to put an end to the incentive program.
The punishment for the Saints blatant rule breaking and disorderly conduct? Severe.
Goodell has handed the Saints organization a $500,000 fine, and the forfeiture of two second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, Loomis is suspended for eight regular season games and has a $500,000 fine, Williams has been suspended from the NFL indefinitely, and Payton -- a massive piece in the Saints success -- has been suspended for the entire 2012 season.
There are plenty of mixed opinions on the length and degree of punishment that Payton, the team, and others received, some claiming it wasn't harsh enough, others saying that Goodell went power crazy and went overboard. Regardless, the punishment was handed down directly from the NFL, and the chances of a successful appeal are slim.
The Saints losing Loomis is going to hurt, but it's not critical to the team's on-field success. Williams was slated to become the new defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, and obviously it doesn't have any effect on New Orleans. But losing Payton, the team's fiery head coach, that's a loss the team may not be able to handle.
With Payton as head coach, and the talent the Saints have on the roster, New Orleans was easily one of the best teams in the NFL. Without Payton on the sideline, calling the shots, motivating players, and making risky in-game adjustments -- not so much.
There is no doubt that a major portion of the Saints recent success has been because of Payton's aggressive, relentless, and ballsy style of coaching. The best example -- the surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV.
New Orleans will be tasked with bringing in an interim head coach for the upcoming season, and with off-season workouts beginning in April, the Saints don't have much time. The team will be forced to find a suitable replacement, in what is a generally weak coaching pool, that can emulate the same attitude and coaching of Payton.
The difficult part -- Payton's one of a kind.
To compound matters, the Saints are running the risk of having the face of the franchise, Drew Brees, sit out and not play until he is given a suitable long-term extension. New Orleans gave Brees the franchise designation, but the Pro-Bowl quarterback was vocally unhappy about it, demanding a long-term deal.
With Payton missing for the year, Brees not getting the long-term deal he wants, and the future of the head coaching position in jeopardy -- the Saints are in trouble.
Saying that everything would have been status quo going into this upcoming season, I would have pegged the Saints as my Super Bowl favorite. But now -- I'd venture to say that the playoffs may even be in question.
Things went from bad to worse, to simply unbelievable for the Saints, and now the team and fan base is going to have to deal with the fallout of what will go down in NFL history as 'bountygate.'
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