The Saints’ bounty program was dirty and unacceptable. I’ve been quite clear on my stance┬ásince Gregg Williams’ payment scheme was first announced, but I felt the need to repeat it emphatically here as a sort of qualifier for what’s about to follow.

There’s no conceivable or logical reason why lawyers should be involved in this mess, and yet that’s become a possibility according to a report from The Associated Press that surfaced last night. After announcing the punishments for the Saints organization, the coaches, and general manager Mickey Loomis, Roger Goodell is evaluating the players’ conduct to determine their penalties. Although an exact time for an announcement is unknown, Goodell is meeting with the NFLPA today, and those meetings could involve the discussion of punishment that extends beyond the football field.

From The Associated Press:

The NFL Players Association told players involved in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case that there is a chance they could face criminal charges and it hired outside counsel to represent them if needed.

While Commissioner Roger Goodell weighs how to punish the two dozen or so players the league says might be connected to the bounties, the NFLPA also suggested that players have a lawyer and union representative present when they are interviewed by NFL investigators.

In the league’s report the amount of players involved ranged from 22 to 27, and while Williams deserves a far stiffer punishment for orchestrating the bounties and Sean Payton needs to sit for longer due to his ignorance and lack of awareness, the players still bear a significant burden of responsibility. They’re not thoughtless cyborgs, and in a league where one major injury can significantly alter a career, they should have been more self-aware, and they could have stood up to Williams.

So the league should punish the Jonathan Vilmas who played a significant role, but there’s no way any outside authority can step into this with confident legal footing. We live in a society where legal guilt must be proven definitively, and while Goodell can and will impose his own set of rules within his league, in a court of law there needs to be conclusive proof that an action led to a result.

It all comes back to specifics, or the lack thereof. Can we prove that one specific hit led to a specific injury? And can we prove that a specific payment motivated a specific on-field action?

Law professor Gabe Feldman said it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between a normal tackle, and one that could be done with the intent to injure:

“They’re difficult cases to bring, because it’s hard to prove the injury was caused by a tackle with specific intent to injure, rather than a regular tackle,” Feldman explained at the time. “We all know injuries are a part of football. There can’t be legal liability anytime there is an injury. Otherwise, you can’t have football.”

Goodell is more than a commissioner. He’s an employer, and all he needs is the knowledge and proof that improper conduct exists within his company to punish those who organized and participated.

The long arm of the law needs much, much more.

And now you want to know the rest of the story…

  • Jeremy Shockey has reportedly lawyered up, and he’s ready for legal action against Warren Sapp, the NFL Network analyst who enjoys hearing himself speak inaudibly. Sapp incorrectly labeled the former Saints tight end as the Bountygate snitch. [National Football Post]
  • We’re officially into April now, so brace yourself for a nauseating amont of smokescreens, mis-direction, and agent-speak, especially regarding the top two quarterbacks as we all try to pretend that there’s a legitimate chance Indy will take Robert Griffin III. [Shutdown Corner]
  • Speaking of smoke, there’s plenty billowing from the Eagles’ scheduled workout date with Ryan Tannehill. [Peter King's MMQB]
  • In a deep year for wide receivers, Stephen Hill is becoming both the most intriguing prospect, and the most difficult to project. [Music City Miracles]
  • One year later, was the Mark Ingram trade worth it for the Saints? [Canal Street Chronicles]
  • The Jets’ backfield is most effective when there’s a reliable pass-catching presence to complement Shonn Greene, and Tim Hightower would be an ideal fit. [The Jet Press]
  • There’s some odd and confusing second guessing going on at another Jets offensive position, the one Tim Tebow plays. [The Jets Blog]
  • There’s still nearly four months left until training camp, and Rob Gronkowski has been gallivanting across America, stopping at every known squatting location for attractive women who like muscular, rich young men. Where will the Gronk campaign trail take us next? [Musket Fire]
  • Of course Tebow was name dropped at the American Country Music awards last night. [Manish Mehta on Twitter]