Saints' linebacker Jonathan Vilma took the brunt of a blow delivered to the Saints' by the NFL Wednesday morning. The NFL has decided that due to the bounty program run by Gregg Williams and the Saints' defense, four players will be suspended during the 2012 season. Vilma got the worst of it, receiving a full season suspension effective today. Anthony Hargrove, now playing with the Packers, will be suspended for 8 games, while Will Smith will be out 4 games and Scott Fujita, now with the Browns, out 3. All players plan on appealing their suspensions.
This really got me mad when I first heard about it. Most defensive players on the football field try to deliver knock out blows to any player they can get a clean shot at. The blow doesn't necessarily have to be to the head or to the knees, but you better bet they're trying to leave their ears ringing. I'm almost positive that Vilma was trying to knock Tom Brady out back when he was playing for the Jets, and just because he now has coaches who endorse that kind of play he's getting in trouble? I think most people would agree that it would be unfair to punish Vilma so harshly for that. However, that's not why the NFL suspended these players.
As I looked further into it, I found that these four players were not just participating in the bounty program on the field, but they were funding it as well. Smith and Vilma both helped former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams create the bounty program, and Vilma even offered $10,000 to any player who knocked out Kurt Warner or Brett Favre during the Saints' Super Bowl winning playoff run. Smith and Fujita are also said to have contributed money to the program. Hargrove, on the other hand, simply admitted to participating and lied to the league about the program in 2010. Hargrove's 8 game suspension is the one that bothers me the most.
As I mentioned earlier with Vilma, Anthony Hargrove would most likely be trying to knock out whoever had the ball whenever he got the chance, regardless of if a bounty program was in place or not. The fact that he "participated" doesn't bother me in the slightest, unless if by "participated" he means "funded." The fact that he lied to the league is not a big deal either. I understand that it's morally the right thing to do and all that, but you have to look at it from his perspective. Hargrove is a part of this defense run by two captains who endorse a bounty program; they are the leaders of this defense and this team. Hargrove ratting out the Saints' defense would have been like Big Pussy telling the FBI about Tony Soprano's airline ticket scam, and look where Big Pussy is now. Maintaining the trust of your teammates is huge in football, and it is completely understandable that Hargrove didn't want to be "that guy" who ratted out the team. Personally, I'd give him somewhere in the 2-4 game suspension range. It's tough to blame him, but you also can't let players get away with lying to the league.
As for the investors in the bounty program, I really can't defend them, especially Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma. Those two were the captains and leaders of this defense, and by endorsing a bounty program they were setting a bad example for all of the young players on the Saints. The coordinator may call the plays, but the captains are the leaders and role models for the team; you can disagree with your coordinator, but you better not disagree with your captain. The fact of the matter is that these players weren't put into this system (as Hargrove was), they were the framework of it, and for that they deserve to be punished severely.
I hope that Hargrove wins his appeal, especially considering he got a worse punishment than two of the players who funded the program. I hope Vilma gets his suspension reduced a couple games, because a full season does seem a bit harsh, but I don't see the NFL backing down on the three players who pledged money to the program. I thought there would be more suspensions dished out for players who took hard shots at the allegedly "hunted" quarterbacks (i.e. Bobby McCray), but I guess the NFL wanted to attack this situation at the root - the players who started and funded it.