NEW YORK (AP) — NFL investigators will meet Monday with the former New Orleans Saints assistant coach who admitted and apologized for running a bounty program that rewarded players with thousand-dollar payoffs for knocking targeted opponents out of games.
The meeting with Gregg Williams will be in the New York area, according to two people familiar with the NFL’s investigation of the bounties. They spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because details of the continuing investigation are not being disclosed.
ESPN first reported the scheduled meeting between the league and Williams.
The Saints maintained a bounty pool of up to $50,000 the last three seasons, the NFL said. Payoffs were made for inflicting game-ending injuries on targeted players, including quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. “Knockouts” were worth $1,500 and “cart-offs” $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday in an email to The Associated Press that the investigation was far from over and that the league will continue “addressing the issues raised as part of our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game.”
That likely means the investigation will zero in on teams that employed Williams in the past.
Before joining the Saints, Williams was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Washington and Jacksonville, and the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. In January, he was hired by new St. Louis Rams coach, Jeff Fisher, to lead the defense.
“It was a terrible mistake,” Williams said in a statement Friday night shortly after the NFL released the report. “And we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”
Several players around the league have said the Saints and Williams weren’t the only ones with such a system. Former Redskins safety Matt Bowen said Williams had a similar bounty scheme when he was in Washington.
Former Bills safety Coy Wire told The Buffalo News on Saturday that an environment of “malicious intent” was in place when he joined the team in 2002 — when Williams was the head coach. Wire said Williams promoted “financial compensation” for hits that injured opponents.
Aiello said the NFL would look at “any relevant info regarding rules being broken.”
No punishments have been handed out, but they could include suspension, fines and loss of draft picks.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for two games this season for stomping on an opponent and has been fined frequently by the NFL for rough play, insisted Sunday his team had no bounty program.
“I don’t take part in those things and nor do my teammates and nor my coaches. We don’t allow that,” Suh said. “For me, personally, and I know my teammates, we don’t want to put anybody out,” he added. “Especially me, I would never want anybody to target me to take me out, so why would I do it against somebody else.”
All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules. The NFL also warns teams against such practices before each season.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday in a statement. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.”
The league said 22 to 27 defensive players were involved in the program. Its findings were corroborated by multiple, independent sources, and the pool amounts peaked in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
One Saint fined last season for flagrant hits was safety Roman Harper. In Week 14 against Tennessee, he made two hits that drew a total of $22,500 in fines.
Harper was fined $15,000 for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit, and another $7,500 for unnecessary roughness when he pulled down receiver Damian Williams by his helmet after a long catch and run. The tackle likely stopped Williams from scoring, and Gregg Williams defended Harper’s aggressiveness on that play after the game.
“If that guy doesn’t want his head tore off, duck. Because that’s how we’re playing. He needs to duck, OK? And that is exactly what you have to do,” Williams said. “One of the things about playing in this league is that your mental toughness, your physical toughness, all that kind of stuff works hand in hand. And I love Roman Harper and the way he plays, and evidently a lot of other people and players in the league do, too, because they keep on voting him to the Pro Bowl.”
AP Sports Writers Rick Freeman in New York and John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this story.