NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton without pay for next season and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely without pay on Wednesday for a bounty system that targeted opposing players.
He also suspended Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games next season, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt for six and fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round draft picks for this year and next.
Goodell asked DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the union, for recommendations on discipline of players, the Washington Post reported.
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," said Goodell, whose league faces several concussion-related lawsuits brought by former players. "We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities."
Payton is the first head coach suspended by the league. He will lose $7.5 million, ESPN reported. According to the league, he ignored orders from it and Saints owner Tom Benson to end the bounty program.
As recently as this year, Payton said he was unaware of it. But according to the league, he received an email before last season's opener that read, "PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers." When Payton was shown it, he acknowledged it referred to a bounty on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Payton and Loomis were not available for comment, but the team apologized via a statement that invoked Hurricane Katrina.
"We are humbled by the support our organization has received from our fans today," it read. "And we ask them to continue to stand with us, as they have done in the past when both our team and our city have overcome greater adversities."
Quarterback Drew Brees tweeted, "I am speechless. … I need to hear an explanation for this punishment."
The Saints must decide who will coach in Payton's place — his suspension takes effect April 1 — and who will make roster moves while Loomis is out. Two coaching candidates are defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. Spagnuolo has NFL head coaching experience; Carmichael does not but has been with the club since 2006.
Williams, whose status will be reviewed after the season, previously admitted to running the program. The Rams, who hired him as defensive coordinator in January, said they will use a committee to replace him.
"I will do everything possible to re-earn the respect of my colleagues, the NFL and its players in hopes of returning to coaching," Williams said.
The NFL said targets included quarterbacks Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" paid $1,500, "cart-offs" $1,000. Payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 for knocking Favre, then with the Vikings, out of the January 2010 NFC title game.
Vitt was aware of the program and, according to the league, admitted he "fabricated the truth" when interviewed. Loomis knew at least by February 2010, when he was told by the league to end it. The league said he later admitted he didn't do enough.
Some who played for Williams with the Redskins and Bills said he oversaw bounty programs there. But the league said it didn't find evidence with either.
The Saints are the fourth team since 1980 to lose draft picks as punishment. The 49ers (2000) lost a third- and fifth-rounder and the Broncos (2004) a third-rounder for a salary cap violations. In 2008, the Patriots lost a first-rounder, were fined $250,000 and coach Bill Belichick fined $500,000 for videotaping opponents' signals.
Sean Payton, coach
Suspended without pay for 2012 season
Gregg Williams (right), former defensive coordinator
Suspended without pay indefinitely; league will review his status after the upcoming season
Mickey Loomis, general manager
Suspended for eight regular-season games
Joe Vitt, assistant head coach/linebackers coach
Suspended for six regular-season games
Fined $500,000; lost second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013