TORONTO - How's this for scrutiny on The Bounty?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should raise the New Orleans Saints up the yardarm and administer punishment that befits the crime. Lashings all around.
Eighteenth-century sailing-ship allusions aside, the Saints should not avoid debilitating penalties for the latest sports-world scandal to be affixed with the dreaded "-gate" suffix Bountygate.
On Friday afternoon, the NFL announced that a two-year investigation has found the Saints defence ran a "bounty" program from 2009-2011, funded primarily by players. Some 22 to 27 defenders were rewarded with under-the-table cash payments for such achievements as "cart-offs" and "knockouts."
The league has a long-standing rule forbidding such non-contract bonuses.
In 2009, Saints defenders earned $1,500 for knockouts and $1,000 for a cart-off. Those figures doubled or tripled during the playoffs, when the bounty pool might have reached $50,000 as the Saints rolled toward their Super Bowl championship.
Specific rival players were targeted, including QBs Kurt Warner of Arizona and Brett Favre of Minnesota. Perhaps Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was right last December when he accused the Saints of deliberately twisting his injured ankle.
But here's where it gets uglier.
One Saints assistant coach defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach and now St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator not only knew of the bounties program, but administered the damn thing! Even contributed to the pot. And he did so with "the knowledge of other defensive coaches," the NFL's 50,000-page report said.
Within a couple of hours, Williams came clean, issuing his "sincere regret and apology" to the league, to Saints owner Tom Benson and to Saints fans.
"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," he said in a statement. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role... I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.
Actually, it appears this was the second time Williams had got "caught up" in such a scheme. My TweetDeck was rolling like a slot machine early Friday evening with reports of the bounty system Williams allegedly had orchestrated as defensive coordinator of the Redskins in 2005. Three players told the Washington Post that Williams paid up to $8,000 for "kill shots," fer gawd sake.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was not specifically named in the NFL's announcement. It defies belief, however, that he was unaware of what was going on. Especially when owner Benson and GM Mickey Loomis both were aware.
The NFL says Benson last year informed Loomis of the investigation's preliminary findings, but Loomis "denied any knowledge" of bounties, and then did not take "any effective action to stop these practices."
Heel-dragging. Not good.
"That kind of surprises me," longtime NFL expert Gil Brandt told me Friday, "because I've known Mickey Loomis for many, many years. And I've always thought that he was a very trustworthy league person that believed in safety, and that he believed in the betterment of the game. And I don't think trying to hurt people helps the betterment of the game."
This is a huge black eye not only for the Saints, but for a league whose sport, like hockey, has been subject to increasing criticism and lawsuits for its long-term handling of the concussions issue.
"The commissioner is on a straight line to get everything as safe as possible," Brandt said. "I would imagine (he) is not very happy about it."
Four years ago, Goodell cracked down hard on Bill Belichick, perpetrator of "Spygate." The NFL fined Belichick $500,000, the Pats $250,000 and stripped the team of a first-round draft pick for the clandestine videotaping of Jets defensive coaches' signals in 2007.
Belichick now has that Spygate smudge on his otherwise shining resume. Time for Sean Payton to get one on his for Bountygate. Especially because, as Brandt observed, Bountygate is worse than Spygate.
"I think they're both an invasion of the integrity of the game," Brandt said. "But I would think that (Spygate) would have a lesser negative effect on the game than when you could possibly lose a Peterson or a Warner, or a player of that type."
I say strip the Saints of draft choices (yes, plural). Fine Payton. Fine and suspend Williams. Fine and suspend Saints defenders, if it can be found they deliberately hurt opposing players.
It's time for Goodell to make like Capt. Bligh on that old British sailing ship. What was its name again?