Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Will the Browns pay for the Saints mistakes?

Like comic book hero Thor, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell brought down the heavy hammer of justice on the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday for the team’s role in rewarding players for intentionally injuring the opposition.

In suspending Saints coach Sean Payton for the entire season, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games, fining the team $500,000 and taking away second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013 (that’s a lot of work for one day), Goodell sends the message that this kind of behavior won’t be acceptable on his watch.

“Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league’s most important initiatives – enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game,” Goodell said in a statement announcing the discipline. “Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so. Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL.”

Goodell’s right. It’s one thing for players to give each other bonuses for sacks or special teams tackles, but to financially reward a player for intentionally injuring someone is just going to far. The league is working hard to make a violent game as safe as possible and how is that not a good thing?

Plus the league had already told the Saints to knock it off with the bounty program but the team decided the rules didn’t apply to them and kept the program in place, and lied to the league office about it. Of course they needed to be punished.

“Clearly, we were lied to,” Goodell told NFL Network. “We investigated this back in 2010, we were told it was not happening, it continued for another two years until we got credible evidence late in the 2011 season and we were able to identify significant information that verified from multiple sources that this was going on for a three-year period.”

And we don’t understand people who are arguing that the Saints should not have been punished more severely than the Patriots were for illegally filming opposing team’s practices. The last time we checked, filming someone didn’t actually result in anyone getting physically hurt.

Of course, the penalties are not going to stop with the Saints and the coaches, which is where the Browns come in.

There were anywhere from 22 to 27 players reportedly involved in the program as well, including current Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and safety Usama Young, who were both with the Saints during the bounty program. (Although we have yet to hear Young’s name linked to any of this.)

Once the league decides how they are going to punish the players, the Browns could potentially be without two defensive starters for at least a few games this fall.

“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. “While all club personnel are expected to play to win, they must not let the quest for victory so cloud their judgment that they willingly and willfully target their opponents and engage in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players.”

Fujita’s case will be an interesting one to watch as he is a member of the player union’s 11-man executive board and was very vocal about the need to increase player safety when the players and league were negotiating a new labor deal.

“Over the years, I’ve paid out a lot of money for big plays like interceptions, sacks and special-teams tackles inside the 20(-yard line), but I’ve never made a payment for intentionally injuring another player,” Fujita told Sports Illustrated in an article earlier this month. “You don’t spend all this time with guys like Sean Morey and other former players, or have close friends whose health fails them, possibly because of this game, and not be affected by that. I wanted to be part of the paradigm shift.”

It figures. The Browns didn’t do anything wrong in all this but still may have to pay an on-field price.

And we don’t really mind that the Rams are losing Williams as their defensive coordinator. Serves them right for not working with the Browns on a trade for the second-round pick in the upcoming draft.

***

Turns out that not only is Lionel Messi a great player on a great FC Barcelona team, but there are some who believe the team is sending out coded messages during play.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime seems to think Messi and the club are sending secret signals to Syrian rebels via passing formations.

OK.

That makes us wonder what signals the Browns were sending when they ran all those 5-yard pass routes on 3rd-and-9 last season.

***

Tim Tebow? Still not coming to Cleveland. May be going to New York. But maybe not.

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