The NFL is poised to drop the hammer on the New Orleans Saints organization after the league revealed Friday that between 22 and 27 defensive players and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams maintained a bounty pool during the past three seasons to reward Saints defenders when they knocked opponents out of the game due to injury.
A NFL investigation found that the Saints targeted players such as quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. If a player was knocked out of a game, the reward was $1,500. If they were carted off the field, it was $1,000. According to the NFL, the bounty pool was as high as $50,000 or more in the 2009 season, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The Washington Post reported Friday evening that the Washington Redskins also had a similar “pay for performance” system when Williams was their defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2007.
The scandal has sparked discussion in traditional and social media by current and former NFL players, with opinions ranging across the spectrum. Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson chimed in on “BountyGate” in a Saturday appearance on WBAL 1090-AM radio, and the soon-to-be free agent said he was not aware of the Ravens ever using a bounty system during his time in the organization.
“I don’t know exactly what [the Saints] were doing,” said Johnson, who was still learning about the allegations. “In my opinion, in my experience in the NFL, the things you hear about bounties get blown out of proportion. They think people will come out and say, ‘I got X amount of dollars because I hit this guy.’ … It’s just not reality. The reality is that when the game starts, what your game check is, [if] there is a bounty, it doesn’t matter.”
Johnson said it didn’t make sense that the bounty amounts the Saints used, which were relative peanuts compared to the salaries of NFL players, would be enough to entice a player to hurt an opponent -- and put their own health at risk to deliver a dangerous hit.
“In my mind, if I’m out there thinking about an extra thousand I could get for hitting somebody, I’m probably not playing very well,” Johnson, who turns 31 in August, added.
Johnson was asked if he got extra money for the hard hit he laid on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward this past season. He laughed and said that there were no exceptions, not even for a hit on the Ravens' nemesis.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people that wanted to pay me for it, but no, I didn’t get paid,” he told WBAL.
During the 2008 season, the NFL looked into comments made by Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs about the team having put a bounty on Ward and Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. But Suggs quickly backed away from that claim.
On Twitter, many NFL players have weighed in on the Saints scandal. Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman, a former Maryland Terrapin, said, “Bounties been going on forever.” San Diego Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips said, “If you don't wanna get hurt don't play.” Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely was among those condemning the bounties.
“No place in NFL for bounties,” he Tweeted. “Physical play is an attribute but malicious intent should be removed”
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo also took to Twitter to voice his opinion.
"Call it a bounty call it a bonus as long as you play within the confines of the game anything goes!!!" Ayanbadejo said in a couple of Tweets. "Like i said call it what you want, play by the rules, make big plays, make big hits, WIN!!! And celebrate”
In another Tweet, Ayabadejo said players typically don’t try to injury their opponents.
“That's very rare,” he Tweeted.
According to an ESPN report, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Saints that he will hold proceedings to determine if and how the team will be disciplined for the bounty scandal -- and it could be one of the harshest punishments the NFL has ever handed down.
"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated," Goodell said in a statement on Friday afternoon. "We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."