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The full statement from the league on the Saints’ bounty program

[Editor’s note:  Due to confusion and contradictions and misinformation regarding the March 2 announcement by the league that the Saints had violated NFL rules through the use of a bounty program, it makes a lot of sense to post the full text of the league’s release.  It probably would have been smart to do it Friday.  But it would have been dumb to not do it now simply because I now realize I should have done it then.  And so the full text of the release from the NFL appears below, without edits or omissions.]

A lengthy investigation by the NFL’s security department has disclosed that between 22 and 27 defensive players on the New Orleans Saints, as well as at least one assistant coach, maintained a “bounty” program funded primarily by players in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the NFL announced today.

The league’s investigation determined that this improper “Pay for Performance” program included “bounty” payments to players for inflicting injuries on opposing players that would result in them being removed from a game.

The findings – corroborated by multiple independent sources – have been presented to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who will determine the appropriate discipline for the violation.

“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Commissioner Goodell said. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.

“It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. 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.”

The players regularly contributed cash into a pool and received improper cash payments of two kinds from the pool based on their play in the previous week’s game. Payments were made for plays such as interceptions and fumble recoveries, but the program also included “bounty” payments for “cart-offs” (meaning that the opposing player was carried off the field) and “knockouts” (meaning that the opposing player was not able to return to the game).

The investigation showed that the total amount of funds in the pool may have reached $50,000 or more at its height during the 2009 playoffs. The program paid players $1,500 for a “knockout” and $1,000 for a “cart-off” with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs.

The investigation included the review of approximately 18,000 documents totaling more than 50,000 pages, interviews of a wide range of individuals and the use of outside forensic experts to verify the authenticity of key documents.

The NFL has a longstanding rule prohibiting “Non-Contract Bonuses.” Non-contract bonuses violate both the NFL Constitution and By-Laws and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clubs are advised every year of this rule in a memo from the commissioner. Citing Sections 9.1(C)(8), and 9.3(F) and (G) of the Constitution and By-Laws, the memo for the 2011 season stated:

“No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”

“Our investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Kurt Warner of the Cardinals and Brett Favre of the Vikings,” Commissioner Goodell said. “Our security department interviewed numerous players and other individuals. At the time, those interviewed denied that any such program existed and the player that made the allegation retracted his earlier assertions. As a result, the allegations could not be proven. We recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season.”

The additional investigation established the following facts:

1. During the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the players and other participants involved used their own money to fund a “Pay for Performance” program. Players earned cash awards for plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries. They also earned “bounty” payments for “cart-offs” and “knockouts.” All such payments violate league rules for non-contract bonuses.

2. Players were willing and enthusiastic participants in the program, contributing regularly and at times pledging large amounts. Between 22 and 27 defensive players contributed funds to the pool over the course of three NFL seasons. In some cases, the amounts pledged were both significant and directed against a specific opposing player.

3. The bounty program was administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the knowledge of other defensive coaches. Funds were contributed on occasion by Williams.

4. Saints owner Tom Benson gave immediate and full cooperation to the investigators. The evidence conclusively established that Mr. Benson was not aware of the bounty program. When informed earlier this year of the new information, Mr. Benson advised league staff that he had directed his general manager, Mickey Loomis, to ensure that any bounty program be discontinued immediately. The evidence showed that Mr. Loomis did not carry out Mr. Benson’s directions. Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010, he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged that he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices.

5. Although head coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the program, he was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue.

6. There is no question that a bounty program violates long-standing league rules. Payments of this type – even for legitimate plays such as interceptions or fumble recoveries – are forbidden because they are inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and well-accepted rules relating to NFL player contracts.

Commissioner Goodell has advised the Saints that he will hold further proceedings to determine the discipline to be assessed against individuals and the club. This will include conferring with the NFL Players Association and individual player leaders regarding appropriate discipline and remedial steps.

The discipline could include fines and suspensions and, in light of the competitive nature of the violation, forfeiture of draft choices. Any discipline may be appealed as provided for in the Constitution and By-Laws and Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any appeal would be heard and decided by the commissioner.

Commissioner Goodell also advised the Saints that he is retaining jurisdiction and reserving his authority to impose further discipline if additional information comes to his attention.

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Giants take Evan Engram with the 23rd pick

AP

The Giants found the tight end they needed, adding a pass-catching threat.

With the 23rd pick, they took Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram.

Engram had 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and is practically a slot receiver.

His 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine was the fastest at his position, and he gives fellow Ole Miss man Eli Manning another attractive option downfield.

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Lions take Jarrad Davis at No. 21

AP

The Lions needed a linebacker. They got on in Jarrad Davis.

The former Florida defender became the 21st pick in the first round of the draft on Thursday night. Davis likely fills the void created by the departure of DeAndre Levy.

Davis exits the board while Reuben Foster’s free-fall continues. He’s regarded as the best linebacker left on the board.

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Dolphins nab Charles Harris with 22nd overall pick

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The Dolphins have added a pass rusher in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Missouri defensive end Charles Harris became the newest member of the Dolphins with the 22nd overall pick on Thursday night.

Harris had 16 sacks over his last two college seasons and that kind of production would look good on a Miami defense that finished 22nd in the league in that category last season. Cameron Wake should make for a good mentor for Harris, who would ideally wind up filling Wake’s shoes as the team’s top pass rusher at some point down the line.

By selecting Harris, the Dolphins became the latest team to pass on Alabama linebacker Rueben Foster in a first round that hasn’t played out as many might have thought for a talented player whose injury issues and/or diluted test at the combine appear to be fueling his drop.

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Broncos grab Utah tackle Garett Bolles with the 20th overall pick

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A team in serious need of help on the offensive line had their pick of every available offensive line prospect in the draft.

The Denver Broncos selected Utah tackle Garett Bolles with the 20th overall pick.

Bolles addresses an area where the Broncos struggled significantly last season. With Russell Okung leaving in free agency, tackle was that much more of a pressing need for Denver this offseason.

Bolles only played one year of Division I football after playing two years at Snow College in Utah. Nevertheless, he earned an All-Pac 12 conference selection for the Utes in his only season with the team.

Denver decided Bolles was a better fit that Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk or Alabama’s Cam Robinson, who both remain available.

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O.J. Howard falls to 19, Buccaneers pounce

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No one expected Alabama tight end O.J. Howard to be available with the 19th pick in the draft. When he was, the Buccaneers wasted no time to get him.

Tampa Bay took the big, fast, strong tight end with the 19th overall pick, getting a player who was projected to go much higher. The Bucs weren’t on the clock for long, suggesting that they were eager to get Howard when they could.

Looking at more than a dozen mock drafts published this week, we saw none that still had Howard on the board when the Bucs picked. Tampa Bay had to be pleasantly surprised that Howard was still available.

Howard is one of the best athletes in this draft class, and a great new target for Jameis Winston. He just made the Bucs very happy.

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With the 18th pick, the Titans take cornerback Adoree Jackson

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After shaking up the draft by taking Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis with the fifth pick, the Titans found another playmaker with the 18th spot.

Tennessee took Southern Cal cornerback Adoree Jackson with its second first-rounder of the night.

Jackson could provide some boost on special teams in addition to his early responsibilities on defense, as he was a proven return man in college. He scored four return touchdowns last year, and had five interceptions, giving them more big-play ability.

Along with free agent pickup Logan Ryan, the Titans have remade their secondary this offseason.

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Jonathan Allen’s slide ends at No. 17

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It was hard to find too many people predicting Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen would remain available past the halfway point of the first round, but that’s one of many surprising developments in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Allen was projected to be a top-10 pick by most observers heading into the draft, but a run on offensive players helped leave him there for the taking with the 17th overall pick. So that’s just what the Redskins did to end Allen’s longer than expected wait.

If Allen produces the way he did in Tuscaloosa, the way things played out will be a happy memory in Washington. He had 10.5 sacks during his final season with the Crimson Tide and was a disruptive player for several years.

The run on offensive players wasn’t the only reason for his slide, however. Allen also had issues with both shoulders in college, leading to durability questions as he made his way into the professional ranks.

There’s some risk, but the Redskins don’t think they outweigh the potential rewards at this point in the first round.

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Ravens take Marlon Humphrey at No. 16

AP

The defense in Baltimore isn’t what is used to be. The team is now trying to make it what it once was.

With the sixteenth pick in the draft, the Ravens have selected cornerback Marlon Humphrey. The Alabama cornerback becomes the second cornerback drafted.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the Ravens would have taken cornerback Gareon Conley in this spot, but for the criminal charges pending against him. Of course, if Conley hadn’t found himself in this predicament, he may have been gone before No. 16.

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Colts take Ohio State safety Malik Hooker 15th overall

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The Indianapolis Colts added a defensive playmaker in their secondary with their first selection of the draft.

The Colts selected Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with the 15th overall pick.

Hooker was a first-team All-American last season in leading the Big Ten conference with seven interceptions. He also recorded 74 tackles and had 11 passes defended.

Hooker gives Indianapolis a defensive standout on a team that lacks significant impact pieces on that side of the ball. Hooker will be able to fit in as a deep center field type of safety in the mold of an Earl Thomas or Ed Reed type of player. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano coached Reed during his days in Baltimore. Now he gets a similar player to fit in to his defensive in Indianapolis.

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With the 14th pick, Eagles pick Derek Barnett

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The draft is in Philadelphia, and the Eagles fans had a mixed reaction to their first-round pick.

With the 14th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Eagles selected Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.

Barnett broke the Tennessee sack record held by the late great Eagles Hall of Famer Reggie White, but some Eagles fans booed his selection, perhaps hoping for a better-known player like Alabama’s Jonathan Allen.

Barnett is a bit undersized for an NFL defensive end, but he’s an explosive pass rusher who should provide an immediate impact on Philadelphia’s defense. If he does, he’ll hear plenty of cheers.

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Cardinals take Haason Reddick with the 13th pick

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The Cardinals didn’t get the quarterback they wanted.

But they found a guy with the 13th pick who could make an immediate impact on their defense.

The Cardinals watched three passers go before them, and selected Temple linebacker Haason Reddick.

Reddick was a fast-riser late in the draft process, and his ability as a pass-rusher will help a defense which needed reinforcements after losing five starters in free agency, including defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Kevin Minter.

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Texans trade up to take Deshaun Watson 12th overall

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In the days leading up to the draft, there was plenty of speculation about the Browns using the No. 12 pick as part of a package to trade up for a quarterback after taking Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.

The Garrett part of the equation was right, but the rest didn’t play out. The Browns traded out of the spot and the Texans moved in to take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson is the third quarterback to come off the board and the third to go to a team that traded up to secure his services.

While it may have been a surprise to some that the Browns have again opted not to take a quarterback, it’s no surprise that the Texans took one. They dealt a first-round pick in 2018, which joins the second-rounder next year that they attached to Brock Osweiler in a previous trade with Cleveland, to get a player they hope can solve the biggest weakness on the team throughout Bill O’Brien’s run as the team’s head coach.

It was shaping up to be one again this season with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden remaining in the wake of the Osweiler trade. Watson’s arrival changes that and it would not be surprising if Watson, who will play with fellow Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins, winds up running the offense by the start of the season.

The Browns now have five picks in the first two rounds next year to go along with No. 25, No. 33 and No. 52 this year. They still don’t have a quarterback, though, and that explains why there are reports of making a run at Kirk Cousins with the Browns again passing on the top signal callers in a draft.

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Saints take Marshon Lattimore with eleventh pick

AP

The Saints need defensive help. And they’re getting it.

With the eleventh selection in the draft, New Orleans has taken cornerback Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State.

He’s the first corner off the board, and likely the first of many. He could be the first of many taken by the Saints, who are committed to improving one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

The move could slam the door on any effort to trade for Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. The Saints also hold the No. 32 pick in the draft, as a result of the trade that sent receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

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Chiefs trade up to 10th pick to select Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes

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The Kansas City Chiefs made a massive move in the first round to grab a quarterback.

The Chiefs traded their first and third round picks this year, along with their 2018 first round pick, to the Buffalo Bills to jump up to the 10th overall pick in the draft.

The Chiefs then used their new selection to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Alex Smith is currently under contract with Kansas City through the 2018 season, but Mahomes now gives the Chiefs a quarterback to develop before presumably taking over the job as early as next seasons.

Mahomes was a two-year starter at Texas Tech before leaving after his junior season. Mahomes completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns last year for the Red Raiders. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection.

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Bengals add some speed, draft John Ross at No. 9

AP

There’s a run on wide receivers in the draft, and the Bengals just chose a receiver who can run.

With the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Bengals selected John Ross, wide receiver from Washington.

Ross set the NFL Scouting Combine record by running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, so the Bengals now have the fastest player in the NFL, at least by Combine speed. Ross and A.J. Green will be a tough pair of receivers for opposing secondaries to stop.

There have already been three receivers taken in this year’s draft, with Corey Davis going No. 5 to the Tennessee Titans and Mike Williams going No. 7 to the Los Angeles Chargers.

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