The Saints' "lack of institutional control that resulted in the worst black eye the organization has ever experienced," according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Their "cavalier attitudes and carelessness left the league with no recourse and has caused irreparable short- and long-term damage to the organization" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/22). ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas noted Saints Owner Tom Benson "was not implicated for doing anything wrong by the league," but he "suddenly faces a huge challenge." He must "decide if he’s going to fill [head coach Sean] Payton’s spot," and he "also has to decide who’s going to make personnel decisions in [GM Mickey] Loomis’ absence." The Saints are "more popular and beloved than they’ve ever been," and it is "up to Benson to find a way to keep them there." Yasinskas wrote, "Most importantly, it's up to Benson to make sure his entire organization plays by [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell’s rules" (ESPN.com, 3/21). Also in New Orleans, John DeShazier writes given the breadth and depth of the Saints' bounty system, the "carelessness with which it was instituted and operated from 2009-11, and the hubris required to continue the program even after principal figures were warned and instructed to cease, just cause exists" for Benson to replace Loomis, Payton and assistant coach Joe Vitt. Benson should "dismiss them because the stain on the Saints' name also is a stain on his, which he tirelessly, and fairly effectively and successfully, has worked to rehabilitate since that ill-advised flirtation with San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina" in '05. DeShazier writes, "It would require courage for Benson to add on to the stiffest penalties ever levied against an NFL franchise" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/22). ESPN.com's Yasinskas wrote Benson’s "reputation in New Orleans has improved quite a bit in recent years." But it is "up to Benson to finish the job by putting good people in the places of Payton and Loomis." Yasinskas: "Most importantly, it's up to Benson to make sure his entire organization plays by Goodell’s rules" (ESPN.com, 3/21). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote the Saints "took a good thing and covered it in disgrace, disrepute and shame." No longer are they the team that "lifted the city with a come-from-behind victory in Super Bowl XLIV." They are the club that "practiced 'Bountygate'" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/21).
TOUGH FOR OWNER: When told of the punishment, Goodell said Benson’s reaction was “disappointment.” Goodell: “He knew that this was a serious violation. He wants to, obviously, win and he wants to do it the right way. He's disappointed and sorry that the Saints were being portrayed this way, in a position where they haven't upheld the rules the way he believed them” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/21).
FRANCHISE FACE: Also in New Orleans, Brett Duke writes Benson should "hand the football side of his franchise to the face of the franchise," QB Drew Brees. Considering the circumstances, there has "never been a time when one player, one voice, meant more to the immediate future of an NFL franchise" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote Brees is "not literally going to be the coach," but in "every significant way in which the Saints will have to replace Sean Payton ... Brees is the guy who will take over" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). Brees' agent Tom Condon said yesterday that Brees will "keep the Saints on the right path." Condon: "I haven't spoken to him since these sanctions have come down, and they seem extraordinarily severe. At the same time, Drew's a great leader, he tries to make the best of any situation" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22).
RIPPLE EFFECT: In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon notes "Bountygate" has left a "big stain on the NFL and some of it splashed onto the Rams." The scandal broke shortly after the Rams hired Williams, and coach Jeff Fisher said, "Had we known about this, would we have hired him? Absolutely not" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/22). Meanwhile, in DC, Mark Maske notes the Redskins, where Williams was the defensive coordinator from '04-08, have "escaped punishment, at least for now." A source said that the NFL's "active investigation of the Redskins was closed, but left open the possibility of reopening the probe should new information surface" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22).