I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the "in-season" and never lacking for story lines or drama. The discipline handed out to the New Orleans Saints for their systematic program of "bounties" paid to players for injuring opponents from 2009-2011 ranks as one of the most influential stories of the year in football.
I certainly expected Commissioner Roger Goodell to levy the "Triple Cocktail of Discipline": fines, suspensions, and the loss of draft picks. And all three were given, as per the NFL's statement, with the money quote from Goodell: "A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious." Yikes.
The damage: indefinite suspension for former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, one-year suspension for head coach Sean Payton, eight-game suspension for general manager Mickey Loomis, six-game suspension for assistant coach Joe Vitt, loss of consecutive second-round picks, and a team fine of $500,000. Steep? Of course, it was expected to be severe.
Two major tenets of the NFL were in play here. First, a bounty program strikes at the heart of competitive balance and competitive integrity of the league. Reports of "bounties" and "cart-offs" put a sinister image on a game that is being sold not only as family entertainment but as competitively honest. Simply, the entire credibility of the sport was at issue with these activities.
Second, with the issue of concussions, head trauma, lawsuits and mentally infirm players so much in the news, player safety has never been more of a priority. The NFL has instituted several measures to ensure a safer product and the new CBA allows for players to have less contact and padded practices, all in the name of player health and safety. A "bounty" program belies these efforts.
Like the 2010 Ben Roethlisberger punishment for off-field misbehavior - a six-game suspension for vile, though not criminal conduct - the league erred on the side of being too harsh rather than too light. Penalty with a purpose.