The NFL has suspended four players for their participation in the New Orleans Saints pay-for-performance bounty scandal -- among them linebacker Jonathan Vilma, for the entire 2012 season.
Vilma received the harshest of sanctions, with defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove suspended for eight games without pay, defensive end Will Smith four games, and linebacker Scott Fujita three.
Hargrove now plays for Green Bay, and Fujita for Cleveland.
It was Vilma who offered $10,000 to any Saints teammate who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC championship game. Favre wound up finishing the game, which the Saints won in overtime.
Vilma was captain of the defense at the time and, according to the NFL, assisted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the bounty program. The league said Vilma offered the same amount to any teammate who could knock Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 divisional playoff game.
The league said that Hargrove submitted a signed declaration that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it. Further, the league said Hargrove “actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.”
The league said Smith and Fujita pledged significant sums to the program pool for “cart-offs” and “knockouts” of opposing players.
“In assessing player discipline,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release, “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”
Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect. Each player has a three-day window in which to appeal.
If an appeal were filed, Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.