Best or Worst Kept Secret in the NFL?

March 21, 2012

Today, the New Orleans Saints bounty controversy came to a head: head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for a year and the main perpetrator, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, has been suspended indefinitely. Upon hearing of Payton’s suspension, his quarterback Drew Brees tweeted the following:

“I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. … I need to hear an explanation for this punishment.”

Which does tend to answer the main question I had about the situation. If these sort of bounty systems are common in the league, and coaches and players change teams all the time, how have these illegal tactics been kept secret for so long? Even if Gregg Williams was solely responsible for encouraging dangerous, potentially career-ending tackles, wouldn’t that end when he changed teams and was faced with playing his former players? If you were coached by Williams in Jacksonville, for example, wouldn’t you pipe up last October 2, when the Saints came to town and were gunning for your teammates?

Apparently the answer, if you are to believe Drew Brees, is that offensive players were not made aware of what the defensive players were up to. That the Jaguar defense didn’t warn their QB Blaine Gabbert that the Saints were likely trying to put him in the hospital. I suppose that might change if Williams actually succeeded in ending a Hall of Fame career, but then, maybe it wouldn’t. If you’re not willing to speak up in advance, are you likely to point the finger afterward?

When Drew Brees finally gets that explanation from Sean Payton about his involvement in the bounty program, I wonder if he won’t question what would have happened the first time Gregg Williams brought his new team to play in the Superdome. Would Payton have spoken up about the bounty that was likely placed on Brees’ head? And with that answer, will Brees think as highly about his mentor then?