What's Next For Saints in 'Bountygate' Story?

It's been a rough couple of days since the news broke Friday afternoon of the New Orleans Saints ongoing pay for performance Bounty Program.

Details have come to light, official team statements and apologies have been made, and there has been endless speculation, individual reaction and response (too many to link to here one by one, but yesterday's Fleur-de-Links contained quite a few of them).

And I haven't even mentioned that the team tagged Drew Brees on Saturday when they couldn't come to terms on a new long-term contract, which now makes it more likely they'll lose either Carl Nicks or Marques Colston, two other cornerstones of the franchise. The clock is ticking fast towards the March 13 start of free agency, Mickey...

But hey, at least it appears we'll soon have a clear winner in the Fast Five Graphic Design Contest. Sometimes you have to grab onto the little victories for peace of mind, right?

And as the initial Bountygate (or Bounty Fest, as some are calling it) shock is wearing off, it seems appropriate to take a look at what's next, so make the jump if you're interested.

The official NFL release on the matter that surfaced on Friday and was posted by Dave closes thusly, and makes a good starting point for this discussion:

Commissioner Goodell has advised the Saints that he will hold further proceedings to determine the discipline to be assessed against individuals and the club. This will include conferring with the NFL Players Association and individual player leaders regarding appropriate discipline and remedial steps.

The discipline could include fines and suspensions and, in light of the competitive nature of the violation, forfeiture of draft choices. Any discipline may be appealed as provided for in the Constitution and By-Laws and Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any appeal would be heard and decided by the commissioner.

Commissioner Goodell also advised the Saints that he is retaining jurisdiction and reserving his authority to impose further discipline if additional information comes to his attention.

The first paragraph seems to say that the investigation is closed, all the facts are in, and now it's just a matter of determining what the consequences will be enforced against both individuals and the team, and that the Players Association will be "conferred with" in the process (whatever that means).

Then it lists some of the possible consequences, which include, but may not be limited to: fines, suspensions, and the loss of draft choices. It also states that the Commissioner will hear and decide any appeals that are filed in response to these sanctions.

Finally, it reserves the right of Commissioner to drop additional hammers on the team and individuals should further information come to light.

That's all good and well, but I have a couple of questions about what comes next, and I bet you do, too.

Let's go through them together and connect with some current thoughts (i.e. speculation and/or information from "inside sources") on these questions by the media.

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When in the heck will we know what the disciplinary actions will be?

The release itself mentions no timeline for this, but Jay Glazer tweeted that his sources say it will be prior to the Owners' Meeting at the end of March or maybe even in the next two weeks, and Jim Varney echoed this sentiment in his story today on nola.com:

Although the NFL has given no indication of when it might reach a decision on the penalties, the annual owners meeting is March 25-28 in Palm Beach, Fla., and it is likely the penalties will be revealed before that.

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What is realistic to expect as far as actual individual and team sanctions to be meted out?

This is where it gets a bit interesting as there has already been some pretty wild speculation on the severity of them, ranging from a minimum of the aforementioned fines, suspensions, and loss of draft choices, all the way up to the firing of Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton and other coaches involved, as well as the outright release of players found guilty.

This NFL.com post from Friday collected the opinions of some of their "experts" on the question, "What's the proper punishment?"

Elliott Harrison tossed around at least two-game suspensions of the players, somewhere between a one- to two- and six- to eight- game suspension and fine for Gregg Williams, fines for Sean Payton and Loomis, and the loss of a first-round draft choice for the team.

Bucky Brooks mentioned fining and suspending the coaches (nothing about the players or team), but then wrote that he thought it wouldn't really discourage the practice itself, but only the outside discussion of it.

Charles Davis admitted that it's a bit premature to rule on this, but that he expects swift, punitive action (even full-season suspensions) if the details prove true in the long run. (But how swift can you be when involved in a long run, Charles?)

Jason Smith reminded us, "The NFL isn't Rollerball." (which is a CSC touchstone reference), while calling for players and coaches to receive four-game suspensions. He also wrote that Gregg Williams should be suspended for three years and then revised his earlier player penalty stance, stating that players should be both fined and suspended.

Charley Casserly wrote that he would need the full details before giving a fully-baked opinion, but offered some half-baked ideas, including the stiffest fine for Williams, penalties for the team (loss of a second-round draft choice or a first, if you count the situation as multiple violations) and fines for the individuals involved. He also referred to basing these punishments on the "history in this matter".

In the story linked to above, Varney checks in with Gabe Feldman, Tulane law professor and authority on sports law, who also believes the consequences will be harsh, and referred to concussion litigation in his statements:

"I think it's huge, this backdrop of concerns over concussions and the focus on players' health and safety," said Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman, a recognized authority on sports law. "To have such an emphasis, and now to have something come out in which a coach paid players to intentionally injure opponents, that is so in contrast to the message being sent by both the players' union and the league.

"The NFL has to come down hard," Feldman concluded. "The league has to make a statement here, to make sure the message is clear to current and future players that safety comes first. It's not just the concussion litigation but the league's image overall."

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What's the real value of an appeal process that sees the appeal simply go right back to the person who originally laid out the consequences?

It's not very judicial, and I don't think it's truly going to change anything. It seems more like going back to Mom and Dad after they ground you for missing curfew while paying your friends to "take out" your sister. You know they're not going to change their minds.

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So, what do you think of all this? What do you think comes next for the Saints? What sanctions do you feel they deserve, as individuals and a team? Are they going to be able to push through this and salvage any kind of decent 2012 season?

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