By Sam Farmer
9:53 AM PST, November 13, 2013
The New England Patriots weren't the only team to video an opponent's hand signals. But the Patriots paid the price for Spygate.
The New Orleans Saints didn't invent the concept of paying cash bonuses for huge hits. But Bountygate set that franchise back in a big way.
When it comes to identifying bad behavior and treating it like a rogue incident that needs to be stamped out — as opposed to a practice that's commonplace all over the league — no one is more effective than the NFL.
This does not bode well for suspended Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who could wind up being cast as the lone rotten apple in a barrel filled with shiny red ones.
The argument that Incognito was just acting like a lot of NFL players, and the threatening and racially charged language he used with teammate Jonathan Martin was a product of a larger locker-room culture, won't fly as an excuse with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell has never been a fence-sitter or sheepish about making difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions he feels are in the best interest of the NFL.
He has handed out significant suspensions to players such as Michael Vick, Donte Stallworth, Ben Roethlisberger and others, and in the Bountygate case suspended Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and Coach Sean Payton for an entire season. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' indefinite suspension lasted a season too.
Incognito already had a checkered past in college and in the league. After the investigation is completed, if Goodell believes Incognito has damaged the image of the NFL and/or violated the league's personal-conduct policy — a policy Goodell put in place — the punishment figures to be severe.
It wouldn't be a surprise if Goodell suspended Incognito indefinitely, leaving open the possibility he could return the way Williams did.
If it were an indefinite suspension of Incognito, as opposed to a lifetime ban, Goodell could still hold the cards and Incognito would be less inclined to air every shred of dirty laundry he might have.
The league brought in Ted Wells to conduct the independent investigation. It was Wells who investigated Billy Hunter, leading to Hunter's ouster earlier this year as the executive director of the NBA Players Assn. You don't hire Ted Wells unless you want a thorough, decisive, action-oriented report. This won't be wishy-washy.
If Incognito goes down, he won't go down alone. There already have been reports suggesting he was told to "toughen up" Martin by either his coaches or the front office, and maybe both. Should the investigation point to that, or if the Dolphins knew or should have known this was going on, heads will roll there too.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross addressed the situation for the first time this week, and he heaped praise on his coach.
"Joe Philbin is probably one of the most organized people I've ever met, when I interviewed him that stood out," Ross said. "What also stood out was his character. I don't think there is a better person, a more respected person, a more caring person in the National Football League than Joe Philbin."
What stood out in Ross' comments is he didn't say a peep about General Manager Jeff Ireland. The GM might be a goner.
Ross is trying to get public money for a stadium in South Florida, and this isn't the type of situation that wins the hearts and minds of the general public.
The NFL is less than three months removed from a $765-million concussion settlement, so the league has barely had time to exhale.
What's more, one way the league wants to add value to the in-stadium experience is by giving fans a chance to get an inside look at what happens in locker rooms.
The NFL might want to rethink that strategy.
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