Saints' Payton Suspended for Season by NFL
Written by Howard Fendrich, AP Pro Football Writer Wednesday, 21 March 2012 13:56
The NFL handed down sweeping and unprecedented punishment Wednesday for bounties paid out on big hits, suspending New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton without pay for next season and indefinitely banning the team's former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who now works for the St. Louis Rams.
Payton is the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason. He is accused of trying to cover up a system of extra cash payouts that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called "particularly unusual and egregious" and "totally unacceptable."
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."
According to the league, Payton ignored instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren't being paid. The league also chastised him for choosing to "falsely deny that the program existed," and for attempting to "encourage the false denials by instructing assistants to 'make sure our ducks are in a row.'"
Goodell also banned Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
In addition, Goodell fined the Saints $500,000 and took away their second-round draft picks this year and next.
After the NFL first made its investigation public on March 2, Williams admitted to — and apologized for — running the program while in charge of the Saints' defense from 2009-11. He was hired by the Rams in January.
Goodell will review Williams' status after the upcoming season and decide whether he can return to the league.
The Saints now must decide who will coach the team while Payton is barred, his suspension is effective April 1, and who will make roster moves while Loomis is out.
After the NFL made clear that punishments were looming, Payton and Loomis took the blame for violations that they acknowledged "happened under our watch" and said Saints owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool, which reached as much as $50,000 in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees reacted quickly to the news on Twitter, writing: "I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor ... I need to hear an explanation for this punishment."
The NFL said the scheme involved 22 to 27 defensive players; targeted opponents included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
According to the league, Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked then-Vikings QB Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game.
All payouts for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, are against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently — although not on the same scale as the NFL found in New Orleans.
In a memo sent out to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell ordered owners to make sure their clubs are not offering bounties now. Each club's principal owner and head coach must certify in writing by March 30 that no pay-for-performance system exists.
Punishment for any Saints players involved will be determined later, because the league is still reviewing the case with the NFL Players Association.
"While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players — including leaders among the defensive players — embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players," Goodell said.
The discipline for the Saints' involvement in the bounty scheme is more far-reaching than what Goodell did in 2007, when the NFL came down on the New England Patriots for illegally videotaping an opponent. Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000, stripped a first-round draft pick, and docked their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for what was known as "Spygate."
As recently as this year, Payton said he was entirely unaware of the bounties — "a claim contradicted by others," the league said. And according to the investigation, Payton received an email before the Saints' first game in 2011 that read, "PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers (sic)." When Payton was shown that email by NFL investigators, he acknowledged it referred to a bounty on Rodgers, whose Packers beat the Saints in Week 1.
The league said that in addition to contributing money to the bounty fund, Williams oversaw record-keeping, determined payout amounts and who got cash, and handed out envelopes with money to players. The NFL said Williams acknowledged he intentionally misled NFL investigators when first questioned in 2010, and didn't try to stop the bounties.
Vitt was aware of the bounties and, according to the league, later admitted he had "fabricated the truth" when interviewed in 2010.
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Loomis knew of the bounty allegations at least by February 2010, when he was told by the league to end the practice. But the NFL said he later admitted he didn't do enough to determine if there were bounties or to try to stop them.
Steelers WR Hines Ward Retiring
Written by Will Graves, AP Sports Writer Tuesday, 20 March 2012 11:23
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward retired on Tuesday rather than try extending his career with another team.
The decision comes three weeks after Ward was released by the Steelers in a salary cap maneuver. The 36-year-old Ward is the franchise's all-time leader in every major receiving category, including receptions, yards and touchdowns. Ward said following his release he believed he "still had some football in him," but changed his mind.
Ward was the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Super Bowl after catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over Seattle.
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The four-time Pro Bowler saw his playing time decrease last season behind Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Ward finished with just 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie year in 1998.
Randy Moss Ends Retirement, Agrees to Deal With 49ers
Written by Janie McCauley, AP Sports Writer Tuesday, 13 March 2012 15:05
Randy Moss is ready to show the world he can still be that dynamic deep threat who once dominated NFL defensive backs.
Even after a year away. Even at age 35. Even with a reputation he says isn't all it's made out to be.
Moss is getting a another chance in the NFL, signing a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Monday only hours after he worked out for the team and with former NFL quarterback and current coach Jim Harbaugh.
"I'm not a free agent. I'm a guy straight off the couch, straight off the street," Moss said. "One thing I want the sports world to understand is the love and passion I have for football."
Moss will fill a big void for the reigning NFC West champions in Harbaugh's version of the West Coast offense.
While he didn't go as far as to promise not to pout when times are tough, he did say all the right things, and that he plans to be a positive presence in a locker room known for its blue-collar, unselfish approach. Moss has no interest in reflecting on his past, either.
This is a fresh start.
"The thing about me being here is they've done their research on me. When it comes to the worldwide sports media, I've gotten a bad rap," Moss said. "They've done their homework on me or they wouldn't have brought me in here. ... (The questions were) more of me not being a team player and things like that. I don't want to get into that."
Moss got a good vibe about the organization from the moment he was picked up at the airport Sunday night, calling it a "no-brainer" to sign. He said the organization quickly decided to "pull the trigger" — and it's a low-risk, high-reward move for San Francisco.
"Harbaugh is a young, enthusiastic coach. I love enthusiasm," Moss said. "A lot of things stood out to me."
It seems Harbaugh's throws were on target, too.
"Jim Harbaugh makes 49ers veteran emergency board: Best coach's workout in NFL history (especially while wearing khakis & a sweatshirt)," Niners CEO Jed York tweeted.
Moss, who worked out last Tuesday with the New Orleans Saints, spent a year out of football and last played for New England, Minnesota and Tennessee during a rocky 2010 season.
He said he enjoyed playing catch with Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL pro in his day.
"Yes, he can still bring it at his old age. I don't know, he's probably sitting there with an ice pack or something on his shoulder right now," Moss said. "He can still wing it."
The 49ers can sure use him. San Francisco's receivers managed just one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 loss in the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Candlestick Park on Jan. 22.
York told reporters earlier Monday at team headquarters his team needed "someone to stretch the field." The athletic, 6-foot-4 Moss fits the bill.
Moss said he initially retired for "personal reasons outside of football" and considered making a comeback late in the 2011 season before ultimately deciding to give his body more time to train. He suffered a shoulder injury during 2010 with New England.
Moss always believed he could still perform.
"It was a decision to get back in the game because I still love the game and think I can play at a high level," he said. "It was obvious they liked what they saw. I don't want to let them down."
The 49ers also are working to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, and have reportedly made him a three-year offer. Smith's representatives haven't returned multiple messages seeking an update on the status of negotiations.
"Alex is trying to figure out what he wants to do," York said. "There have been good conversations back and forth."
If Moss proves himself during workouts this spring and training camp, he could be a viable deep threat that San Francisco hoped it had in Braylon Edwards last season.
The 49ers cut ties with Edwards in December. Joshua Morgan broke a bone in his lower leg Oct. 9 against Tampa Bay and later had surgery to have screws inserted and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Morgan is expected to generate his share of interest in free agency, and receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr. might not return.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco's 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft, had 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. San Francisco went 13-3 and ended an eight-year drought without a playoff berth or winning record.
Moss' best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping New England to a 16-0 regular-season record. He has 954 catches for 14,858 yards and 153 TDs in his 13-year career, which included a stint in the Bay Area with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and '06 where he produced little on the field.
Running back Anthony Dixon watched Moss' workout Monday, and came away giddy.
"Randy Moss done linked up with us. Oh it's about to get scary like the end of October!" Dixon tweeted.
Moss has had more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season 10 times, second only to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who accomplished the feat 14 times.
Moss hasn't lost his swagger.
"I accept the challenge and I'm ready to bring the fans out of their seats," he said, noting he considers this a chance to give back to the game. "I like what I can do for the NFL. I don't like what the NFL can do for me."
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ESPN first reported the move a day before the start of the free agency period.
Suspended Broncos Players Fighting Back
Written by Arnie Stapleton, Pat Graham, AP Sports Writers Tuesday, 13 March 2012 11:29
Two Denver Broncos players are suing the NFL seeking to overturn their drug suspensions.
The lawsuit filed in Denver District Court contends the league violated protocol in collecting urine samples from linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive lineman Ryan McBean and refused to clear the players after the collector was fired for not following proper procedures.
Williams and McBean were suspended without pay for Denver's first six games of the 2012 season.
Williams' lawyer, Peter R. Ginsberg, said the league contends the urine samples they provided to an NFL specimen collector for testing in August weren't from a human. Ginsberg said the specimen collector said he watched Williams void directly into the specimen bottle, so it would've been impossible for the specimen to be non-human.
The collector has since been fired by the league for dereliction of duty, but the hearing officer, Harold Henderson, who works in the commissioner's office, ruled against the players, whose appeal was denied.
Williams and McBean filed suit this week against the NFL asking that their penalties, which were handed down Friday, be thrown out.
"The claims have no merit and we are confident that the discipline will be upheld and enforced as required by the policy," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday.
The lawsuit contends Henderson exceeded his powers and wasn't an impartial arbitrator and that errors were made in the chain-of-custody procedure. It also claims that after the players' appeals hearings, the NFL lawyer held what's called "ex parte communications" with Henderson, meaning the players' lawyers weren't present.
"The bottom line is that the NFL totally compromised the steroid policy, trampled on our clients' rights, damaged their reputations, are threatening their livelihoods and we've asked for judicial intervention to ensure against that happening," Ginsberg said.
"I don't think I've ever seen the NFL so flagrantly violate its own procedures and have no conscience with regard to punishing players without any justification," Ginsberg added. "I think that the hearing officer was answering to the commissioner and there may be vestiges of hard feelings for the (collective bargaining agreement) negotiations. Or simply, the commissioner doesn't understand that he has responsibilities to players as well as to the owners."
McBean becomes a free agent Tuesday afternoon, but with this suspension hanging over his head, his lawyer, Peter Schaffer, wonders just how marketable he will be to teams. Schaffer said the evidence in the case closed on Dec. 9, but he didn't receive a decision until February.
"I want to make emphatically clear that neither one of these players tested positive for a banned or an illegal substance. I think that's very important to point out," Schaffer said. "The damages are enormous. Forget about not just the damage to D.J.'s and Ryan's reputation, but monetarily, it's enormous."
Schaffer also compared the case to that of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who recently won his appeal to overturn a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.
Braun's legal team argued in a grievance hearing that the collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., did not follow the procedures specified in baseball's drug agreement.
"The facts of this case are so much better than the facts of Braun," Schaffer said. "In Braun's case, the arbitrator ruled, based on WADA cases, that the collector made a mistake and therefore he can't punish the player, even though Major League Baseball believed the collector did not make a mistake. The collector has come out and said I did everything right and Major League Baseball has come out and said the collector has done everything right.
"In this case, the NFL fired the collector for obvious dereliction of duties. At the hearing, the NFL administrators all admitted the collector made many mistakes and that's why he was fired. And yet they still suspend these two players."
The NFL Players Association also chimed in on the matter Tuesday, questioning the process followed by the NFL before the league suspended Williams and McBean for violating the policy on performance-enhancing substances. The players union said it's "disappointed" with the six-game suspensions.
The union said in its release that there was evidence of breaches in the collection protocol and other procedural irregularities. Also, the NFLPA said the league handed down the bans "even though the specimen collector was fired by his agency for not following procedures."
A four-game suspension for Broncos tight end Virgil Green was not addressed in an NFLPA news release. Green has said he now has been approved for the medication for which he was been suspended. Green is not party to the lawsuit filed by Williams and McBean.
Williams, who has been the backbone of Denver's defense for several seasons as the Broncos' top tackler, is livid over his suspension, Ginsberg said.
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"It's a huge deal professionally and personally," Ginsberg said. "D.J. has been playing for eight years and he's never violated any test for either steroids or illegal substances. Here, the NFL is broadcasting publicly that he failed a steroids test. He's very upset."
NYC Fans Cheer, Dance as Giants Defeat Patriots
Written by Karen Matthews, Associated Press Monday, 06 February 2012 04:27
CLICK HERE to view 'NFL Eye Candy' photo gallery.
NEW YORK (AP) — The repeat performance was just as good as the first for New York Giants fans as they watched their team again beat the New England Patriots 21-17 Sunday in the Super Bowl.
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