Saints coach Sean Payton addressed the media today at the NFL annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., saying he “hasn’t decided” whether to appeal his year-long suspension that came from the team's bounty scandal. Payton said, "By the end of this month, we’ll make a decision on that.” Payton noted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “has done a great job communicating with us throughout this process,” and Goodell has "made it clear ... we’ve got such a good product right now that just the idea of something with this magnitude is an important issue he wanted to address.” Payton said in the two trips he made to the NFL’s N.Y. office to answer questions during the investigation, “I made sure to do everything in my power to answer the questions honestly.” Payton did not attend the meetings yesterday, saying that from a "planning standpoint, it was going to be hard for me to be down here for four days with everything that we’re talking about having to get done." Payton: "Coming in for one day, it made sense that today’s meetings are the head coach, general manager and owners’ meetings. I thought that was the important meeting I needed to be at. We’ll leave here this afternoon and … continue on with the checklist we talked about.” Payton added, “To stay away, I didn’t consider as an option." He also touched on the report he has reached out to former NFL coach and exec Bill Parcells to replace him for the '12 season, saying that is a "little ahead of ourselves." Payton, who served as an assistant under Parcells when he coached the Cowboys, said he "speaks with him pretty regularly." Payton added his “conversations with Bill to date really have just been about the uniqueness of this situation” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/27).
BENSON ADDRESSES OWNERS: Goodell said that Saints Owner Tom Benson "addressed the situation" around the team with the league’s other owners yesterday. Goodell said of Benson, “He was very open with the clubs. He expressed his disappointment that this occurred and this was not what he’s all about and he expects to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again" (ESPN.com, 3/26). In New Orleans, James Varney notes aside from Payton, the Saints were at the meetings yesterday “in something approximating full strength." Benson, GM Mickey Loomis, Exec VP & CFO Dennis Lauscha and co-Owner & Exec VP Rita Benson LeBlanc were “on hand.” It still remains “unclear just what steps may have been taken behind the scenes Monday.” From the moment Goodell announced his punishment on March 21, Saints officials had “vowed Loomis and Payton would appeal but thus far that step does not appear to have been taken.” Goodell said that should Payton “file an appeal before his April 2 deadline the suspension would not take effect until he rules on the appeal, a process Goodell stressed would be expedited” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/27). Goodell said if Payton “decides to appeal, I probably will allow him to continue and I would expedite the hearing and I would expedite my decision.” Payton’s agent, Donald Yee, said “no decisions have been made about an appeal” by his client (AP, 3/27).
TUNA CASSEROLE: Parcells yesterday said of the possibility of him taking over for Payton this year, “I think everything is hypothetical at this point. It would be hard to be interested in something I don't know exists yet." On Long Island, Glauber & Lennon note if the Saints “hired Parcells -- even on an interim basis -- they first would have to comply with the NFL's Rooney Rule by interviewing a minority candidate.” Also “complicating matters is the possibility that Payton will appeal his suspension and possibly have it reduced.” But he “might not have much luck because Goodell would hear the appeal” (NEWSDAY, 3/27). SI.com’s Peter King wrote this is “such a unique situation that it's hard to rule Parcells out totally.” It is “likely that Payton has conversed with Parcells more than anyone outside the organization since being handed” the suspension. King wrote it is possible Parcells “would view this as a once-in-a-lifetime 10-month adventure, after which he could slide back into his semi-retirement” (SI.com, 3/26). But CBSSPORTS.com’s Clark Judge asked, “What part of this is New Orleans owner Tom Benson missing?” Judge: “Payton just disgraced your club by incurring one of the worst penalties in NFL history. So now you're going to trust him to name his own replacement? Someone tell me that Benson isn't that stupid, naïve or both” (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/26). The Boston Globe’s Shalize Manza Young said the “thing to me that is really crazy” is that Benson would allow Payton “to dictate who would replace him this year when, obviously, he's made some really bad decisions in the weeks past that led to them being in this situation in the first place” (“NESN Daily,” NESN, 3/26). FOXSPORTS.com’s Jen Floyd Engel writes what “began as a way to punish New Orleans -- and more importantly send a legal message -- has instead become a possible tactical advantage for the Saints.” Floyd Engel: “There is no bigger non-verbal insult than this” (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/27). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said of Payton, "I’m waiting to see the repentant nature of a guy who’s been suspended for a year” ("PTI," ESPN, 3/26).
DIVERSION TACTIC BY SAINTS? NBC Sports Network’s Rob Simmelkjaer noted the Saints "had sort of become almost another 'America’s Team' for a few years after Katrina, after what they did to bring that city back." Simmelkjaer: "Now we’re talking about them in this light. What does this all do to the Saints just as a brand and organization?” NBC Sports Network’s Ross Tucker: “It's been terrible. I really thought they would try to stem the PR tide by signing Drew Brees, the face of the franchise, to a long-term contract extension. They weren't able to do that, which is why I actually think they want to bring in Parcells. If they bring in Parcells, we're all talking about Parcells. We're not talking about the bounties anymore, we’re talking about, ‘Oh my god, Bill Parcells is the head coach! Can you believe it?’” (“NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 3/26).
STEPS TAKEN: Goodell said that he sent NFL Exec VP/Labor & General Counsel Jeff Pash and NFL Chief of Security Jeff Miller “to New Orleans to meet with” Benson the day before the team’s first-round playoff game against the Lions in January. Goodell: "The point was to make it clear to him that we had new and credible information that a bounty program may exist, and that he should make it extremely clear, beginning with the game the next day, that there should be no bounty system in place while our investigation continues. We do not want to put our players at risk, and that was the message.” He added, "Our point was, if there is one, you'd better make sure it's not in effect" (L.A. TIMES, 3/27). Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said, “I'm really not privy to all the details, so I trust that the commissioner made the penalties that he felt were appropriate. I don't hear New Orleans bitching about it. I'm sure they were shocked and certainly hoping for less. But they seem to be taking it in stride.” He said of the bounty scandal, “I was shocked that it existed in the NFL. It's so silly when you think about it” (Baltimore SUN, 3/27).
MORE TO COME: Goodell yesterday said that the league “has not stopped investigating allegations” that the Redskins and other teams besides the Saints had bounty programs when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams coached for them. Goodell: “We haven’t closed an investigation. We have not stopped investigating. If we get information, we follow up on it” (WASHINGTON POST, 3/27). CBSSPORTS.com’s Will Brinson noted Goodell also “made it clear that ‘non-contract bonus payments’ have been more prevalent than the NFL would like, even if those bonuses didn't completely escalate to the level of a ‘bounty’ in each scenario.” And he “sounded concerned about that aspect.” Goodell said in the event that bounties, or even just non-contract bonus payments, are getting out of hand or being reported, the league would "aggressively pursue" any violations (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/26). Goodell noted he expected to talk to NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith by the end of the week about any punishment Saints players might receive for the bounty scandal (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). Goodell “won’t mete out punishment for 22 to 27 Saints players until he meets with the player’s union, possibly by week’s end” (USA TODAY, 3/27).
I NEVER REVEAL MY SOURCES: ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas noted Goodell yesterday was asked about the situation with NFL Network’s Warren Sapp accusing free agent TE Jeremy Shockey of being “the snitch” in the case. Goodell: “I think I would say to NFL Network staff as well as anyone else, you better be sure of your information before you report it. I didn’t see (Sapp’s) comment. But he’s inaccurate. I’ll stop at that.” He added, “First off, you’re assuming it was a player? We had several sources on this. We’re not disclosing our sources” (ESPN.com, 3/27).