In the interest of full disclosure, I'm relatively new here, and not specifically a Saints fan. However, I am concerned about the possible penalties that will be handed down by the league office, specifically in the way that they may effectively punish Saints fans.
As I see it, the league has a few competing goals in designing these penalties:
- Minimize league exposure to liability by sending a "clear message" that such systems are not acceptable
- Create incentives to change behavior, especially of team officials (whose actions expose the league to liability)
- Minimize harm to Rams (who are 3rd parties) and Saints fans, especially in terms of the Saints' competitiveness on the field
With that in mind, I think the best option is to focus the penalties on coaches and front office personnel rather than players. Sure, maybe impose some fines on players comparable to those handed out for illegal hits (so guys like Harrison and Suh can't complain), but generally avoid taking players off the field that would harm the Saints' competitiveness. Following that rationale, I'd also avoid taking draft picks away. In my opinion, the pay-for-performance scheme didn't give the Saints an unfair competitive advantage like the Patriots' scandal did.
The real "crime," in my view, is circumventing the salary cap by having coaches and 3rd parties pay players outside their contract, and allegedly creating incentives to cause injury.
Therefore, what if the league created a penalty where the coach's salary would count against their team's salary cap for a year or so? You would allow 3rd party teams (like the Rams) to restructure coaches contracts just like they do with player contracts, subject to a predefined "league minimum." However, you wouldn't allow an offending team to count a restructured contract. They would also have to count past contracts with offending coaches who move on to a different team. In my view, a penalty like this would have several benefits:
- Rams can make a real choice about the competitive value of keeping Williams. If they restructure his contract, they face very little impact until the penalty expires, and they wouldn't be effectively penalized for Williams' actions as a Saint. Williams would take a hit to the wallet, but still be able to work. If he performs well and stays clean, he can make his money back in the future. I couldn't find any info about Williams' contract, but supposedly, NFL defensive coordinators make ~$450k to $3 million - http://tinyurl.com/7moddv4
- Saints (both the front office and the players) would have to make some decisions about Payton's value to the team. The players could agree to restructure their own contracts to "give back" that cap space during the penalty period, and the Saints could keep Payton and face very little competitive impact. However, Payton would be under a lot of pressure to prove his value to the team. His 2011 contract extension reportedly pays him north of $6 million / year - http://tinyurl.com/3s8jy4k
- Front offices would have a strong incentive to shut down any pay-for-performance scheme, since they risk taking a cut in their salary cap space and affecting, potentially, their ability to sign free agents, draft choices, etc. Future contracts with coaches would probably have clauses that cut pay severely in the event such a scheme is discovered by the NFL.
- Coaches would have a strong incentive to shut down any pay-for-performance scheme, since it could directly affect their pocketbook and, potentially, their team's ability to sign free agents, draft choices, etc. Coaches implementing a pay-for-performance scheme would put themselves in direct competition with players for a limited pool of money, so players would have an incentive not to participate in such a scheme.
- Penalties would hit teams harder the closer they are to the salary cap. Presumably, teams that are close to the salary cap are paying their players well, and implementing a pay-for-performance system that circumvents the salary cap is more egregious. If the Bengals, with $50 million in cap space, implement a pay-for-performance scheme worth $50 thousand, that's really not a big deal in terms of a salary cap violation.
- The higher up the coaching chain, the larger the penalty and the larger the incentive. If a quality assurance assistant making peanuts does something wrong, he'll probably get canned, but the team won't suffer much. If a top-tier head coach does something wrong, the risk for the team is much greater. Therefore, the incentive to eliminate these systems is also much greater.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas about what kind of penalty would serve the conflicting goals of changing behavior while minimizing harm to 3rd party teams and Saints fans.