Florio gives a good breakdown of the semantics of the issue. These of course are the semantics Goodell says do not exist.
When defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis dragged down Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, causing him to leave the game with what turned out to be a bruised chest muscle, Ellis accomplished a $1,500 "knockout" in the now-defunct vernacular of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. (If Kolb had returned, it would have simply been a $1,000 "cart-off.")
It’s a great opportunity for the league to use its various media platforms to send a clear message to all media and fans that this is precisely the kind of play for which the Saints were punished: A clean, legal hit that resulted in an opponent leaving the game.
The fact that the league didn’t pounce on the opportunity to let us all know that this is exactly what the league punished the Saints for makes us even more curious as to whether the league hopes to avoid the debate that would arise from punishing teams and players for giving other players a little extra cash for simply doing their jobs.
Ellis is paid to chase down quarterbacks and to apply clean, legal hits to them. Ellis has a clear incentive to knock the starting quarterback out of the game. (Although in this specific case the Saints may have been better off facing Kolb instead of John Skelton.) Throwing a little extra money to Ellis — the NFL equivalent of the helmet sticker — doesn’t create any less incentive to hit the quarterback and hope he can’t continue.