Much like the suspensions for the coaches and front office staff involved in the Saints pay for performance scheme, it was fully expected that when the punishments for the players were finally announced, they would be severe.
But umm, wow.
All the players will appeal their suspensions, according to Mike Freeman from CBS Sports, a move that was also expected.
The assumption was that at minimum Vilma would be out for half of the season, and maybe a little more. But it’s clear that commissioner Roger Goodell rightly felt the need to use the same heavy hammer with the players that dealt head coach Sean Payton his one-year suspension, now interim head coach Joe Vitt his six-game absence, general manager Mickey Loomis an eight-game penalty, and Gregg Williams his indefinite leave and possible banishment from the league entirely.
These players weren’t mere sheep following a deranged lunatic who preached about ensuring that the opponent’s head should be quite literally screwed on sideways. They were willful and eager participants, and Vilma was the leader when he allegedly put $10,000 on Brett Favre’s head during the 2010 NFC Championship game. That was a pretty poor investment, because Vilma will now lose $1.6 million in salary over the 2012 season.
In anticipation of a lengthy absence for Vilma, the Saints insured themselves with depth at middle linebacker during free agency by signing Curtis Lofton, who is an upgrade over the oft-injured 30-year-old regardless. Further depth was obtained through the signing of David Hawthorne, and he’ll likely now slide over to the weak side.
While losing Vilma won’t be particularly painful, playing without Smith for four games might be. Although he’s fading with age and had a far more moderate 6.5 sacks last year, the 30-year-old is still just two years removed from a 13 sack season. In what’s now a passing league where quarterback pressure is paramount, one of the league’s very average pass rushes (the Saints had 33 sacks in 2011) will be playing without its main source of pressure for a quarter of the season. Depth is also a clear concern, as the Saints are down to just four defensive ends for the start of the regular season.
The other two punished players aren’t the Saints’ problem anymore, which adds yet another layer to his twisted, sad tale. Anthony Hargrove played in Seattle last year before signing a one-year deal with the Packers as a free agent. The defensive end was fined for an illegal hit on Farve during that championship game, and reportedly celebrated by saying “Favre is done!”, according to Sports Illustrated. In a statement he admitted to hitting Favre late and being excessive in his celebration, but said he didn’t receive any bounty payment.
Brought in to add bulk and speed to a Green Bay pass rush that sorely misses Cullen Jenkins, the Packers will now play without Hargrove for half the season. This makes the selection of defensive tackle Jerel Worthy look like a shrewd move. The second-round pick out of Michigan State will now be pushed into a starting role immediately.
Lastly, Fujita also laid down a significant amount of money for bounty payments. He’s been with the browns for the past two seasons, and last year when he missed six games Chris Gocong replaced him at middle linebacker, with Kaluka Maiava then sliding in on the weak side.
So we finally have some closure to a slimy, divisive bounty program. The entertainment can truly begin now as we watch to see how the replacements for Vilma and Smith fare, and how the Saints handle absurdly having two interim head coaches.