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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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Jerry Jones closes door on Hardy return to Cowboys

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 15: Greg Hardy #76 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys have closed the door on Greg Hardy returning to the team, owner Jerry Jones told reporters Friday night.

The news comes as no real surprise — Hardy has been a free agent for seven weeks — but Jones going the no-comment route is the most definitive statement of disinterest to date. The Cowboys have gone three rounds into the draft without adding an edge rusher, but the team doesn’t see Hardy as a solution.

Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son, has said the the team is looking for pass rushers, and that search will continue into the final day of the draft and apparently beyond. Hardy had six sacks for the Cowboys last year.

Their pass-rush issue is compounded by the situations facing Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence, who are facing four-game suspensions to start next season.

“Ultimately we want to find a dominant type of pass rusher,” Stephen Jones said earlier this month. “Obviously that’s easier said than done.”

The Cowboys-Hardy experiment simply didn’t work out, and the Cowboys figure having to get creative to address their pass rush is better than dealing with Hardy-related headaches.

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Browns take Cody Kessler, as Connor Cook slide continues

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The Connor Cook slide continues.

He wasn’t taken before Christian Hackenberg. He wasn’t taken before Jacoby Brissett. And he wasn’t taken before Cody Kessler.

The Browns took Kessler in round three. Which means Cook is still on the board, as the compensatory phase of round three begins.

The slide by Cook is stunning. He told PFT Live earlier this week he’d get nervous if not taken after round two. He may be undrafted after round three.

The good news (if there is any) is that former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was a fourth-round pick. Things worked out pretty well for him.

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Patriots grab QB Jacoby Brissett

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMEBER 14: Jacoby Brissett #12 looks over his line prior to a play against the Florida State Seminoles during the game at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida State Seminoles beat the North Carolina Wolfpack 34-17. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thanks to this week’s ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Patriots face the prospect of playing the first four weeks of the season without quarterback Tom Brady.

That left them in need of a quarterback to go with Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster. They addressed that need in the third round on Friday night.

The Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State with the 91st overall pick. Brissett is a big quarterback at 6’4″ and 231 pounds and had some big games against good opponents over the course of his ACC career, but there’s definitely work to be done if he’s going to be an NFL starter.

New England can afford to give him that time with Brady and Garoppolo on hand now and he could follow Garoppolo into the No. 2 job if he continues to develop.

The Patriots made their first pick of the year in the second round when they took Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones with the 60th overall pick. Jones also excelled as a returner in college. They traded the 61st pick to the Saints, receiving third- and fourth-round picks in return. They used the third rounder on offensive lineman Joe Thuney, who was a college teammate of Brissett.

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Ohio State sets record for most players drafted through first three rounds

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Terry Richardson #13 of the Michigan Wolverines tackles Braxton Miller #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ohio State set the record for the most players drafted from a school in a single year when they had 14 players selected in the 2004 draft.

They may not match that record this year, but the NFL announced that they have more players selected through the first three rounds than any school in history. There are 10 players from Columbus off the board.

When the Bills selected defensive tackle Adolphus Washington with the 80th overall pick, it meant that 10 percent of the players selected to that point were Buckeyes. The percentage swung even further in the direction of Urban Meyer’s talent pipeline when the Texans made wide receiver Braxton Miller the 85th overall pick and ninth Ohio State player selected, and then the Seahawks took tight end Nick Vannett with the 94th pick.

Five Buckeyes went on Thursday night and two more went to the Saints in the second round. New Orleans took wide receiver Michael Thomas with the 47th pick and then traded up with the Patriots to No. 61 to pick safety Vonn Bell.

With quarterback Cardale Jones, linebacker Joshua Perry and other Buckeyes still available, the number of Ohio State products is likely to grow before Saturday’s festivities come to an end.

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Jaylon Smith will receive insurance payment, Myles Jack won’t

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack were the two best linebackers in college football last year. They both suffered serious knee injuries that caused them to drop in the draft. They both had insurance policies designed to protect them in case of an injury. But only Smith will collect on that policy.

That’s because Smith bought a policy that came with a significant payout if he dropped into the second round of the draft, while Jack bought a policy that would only pay out if he fell past the 45th pick.

Smith’s policy will pay $900,000 because he fell all the way to the 34th overall pick in the draft, Darren Rovell of ESPN reports. That doesn’t make up for the money Smith lost with his injury: If he’d been the third overall pick he would have signed a contract with a total value of about $26 million, but as the 34th overall pick he’ll get about $6.5 million on his rookie deal. Still, a $900,000 payout takes a little of the sting off his injury.

But Jack won’t get any insurance money. His policy would only pay if he dropped below the 45th overall pick, and the Jaguars drafted Jack at pick No. 36. Jack will make about $6.3 million on his rookie contract, but nothing from insurance.

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Browns make another trade, still own nine more picks in this draft

Cleveland Browns v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Browns traded pick No. 77 in the third round to the Panthers, who selected West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley.

The Browns have made four picks in this draft and made two trades. They netted a third-round pick and a 2017 second-rounder in their first round trade with the Titans, then gave up Nos. 77 and 141 to the Panthers for pick Nos. 93, 129 and 168 in this draft.

That gives the Browns five picks between Nos. 93-138, then Nos. 168, 172, 173 and 223.

No. 93 is a late third-round pick to be made later Friday night, then the Browns will have eight picks tomorrow.

Before trading with the Panthers the Browns used pick No. 76 on offensive tackle Shon Coleman, a left tackle at Auburn who will compete for the right tackle job with the Browns.

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Kevin Faulk announces Patriots pick wearing Tom Brady jersey

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The #FreeBrady movement has made its way to Chicago.

Announcing New England’s third-round pick, former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk had a Tom Brady jersey under his jacket and over his dress shirt. Faulk unbuttoned the jacket, pulled it open, stood at the front of the stage with his hands on his hips while being introduced by NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.

“With the 78th pick of the 2016 NFL draft, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady select Joe Thuney, linebacker, North Carolina State,” Faulk declared.

The guys handling NFL Network’s coverage chuckled briefly but didn’t mention Faulk’s gesture. Which probably was smart.

On Monday, a federal appeals court reinstated Brady’s four-game #Deflategate suspension.

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Dolphins add Kenyan Drake to backfield

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide returns a kickoff for a 95 yards touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins coach Adam Gase said during the team’s minicamp this week that it was “very impressive” to see running back Jay Ajayi on the field, continuing a recent trend of confident notes about the backfield from Miami.

Early in free agency it looked like they weren’t so comfortable as they made an unsuccessful bid for C.J. Anderson as a restricted free agent and the team used a third-round pick to add another player to the mix. They selected Alabama running back Kenyan Drake at No. 73 overall on Friday night.

Drake has plenty of experience in backfield committees after sharing time with 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon and 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry at Alabama over the last two seasons. Drake, who broke his leg in 2014 and his arm in 2015, will bring speed out of the backfield and could be a pass receiving option as a complement to Ajayi.

Drake also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the NCAA title game last season and made several other big plays on special teams at Alabama, which should ensure him early playing time even if the running back rotation works out differently come September.

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Ravens add to pass rush, again

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 14:  Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Missouri Tigers avoids a sack by Bronson Kaufusi #90 of the Brigham Young Cougars as he rolls out to pass in the first quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) Getty Images

It seems the Ravens had a plan on Friday night, to add picks and to add pass rushers.

After making two trades and selecting Kamalei Correa in the second round, the Ravens in the third round picked defensive end Bronson Kaufusi at No. 70.

Kaufusi, who’s 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, had 11 sacks last season at BYU. He’ll play as a defensive end as the Ravens groom him, while Correa while likely play as a linebacker and then as a defensive end in nickel packages.

Kaufusi also played basketball at BYU and played both as a defensive end and as a stand-up pass rusher during his college career.

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Jaylon Smith says there’s “absolutely” a chance he will play this year

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The Cowboys balanced their win-now selection of running back Ezekiel Elliott in round one with a play-later option in second-round linebacker Jaylon Smith. But don’t tell Smith that he won’t be playing in 2016.

Asked by reporters after getting picked Friday night whether there’s a chance he’ll play this year, Smith said, “Absolutely. Never doubt God.”

Smith suffered a serious knee injury during his final game with Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Concerns regarding nerve damage caused him to fall, but he ended up being drafted earlier than expected — even earlier than linebacker Myles Jack.

“I get different sensations everyday with the nerve, but it’s just a timing thing,” Smith said. “I’m only three-and-a-half months out, so time will definitely tell, but the knee is fine. That was cleared at the medical recheck that the knee won’t have any issues. But it’s just a timing thing for the nerve. It’s too early in the process to tell. . . .

“There’s no recovery time because this is a process where we’re relying on God to do his work. We have to be patient and you know the nerve can come back tomorrow. It’s just a timing thing. Whenever it wants to come back, it’ll come back.”

The fact that the Cowboys made Smith such a high pick suggests that they’re hopeful the nerve will come back sooner than later. If it does, the Cowboys could have yet another great player as they continue to search for glory.

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Panthers find a cornerback, take Samford’s James Bradberry

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 1:  A man dressed as a toilet runs on the field during the Colorado State Rams game against the Colorado Buffaloes at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 1, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado won 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers were flush with salary cap room after taking the franchise tag off Josh Norman, but they were left with a leaky secondary.

So they drafted a guy who will have to help fix that problem.

With the 62nd overall pick, the Panthers drafted Samford cornerback James Bradberry, who will get a crack at replacing the departed Norman.

Of course, Bradberry wasn’t necessarily expecting the call, as he was busy fixing his mother’s toilet at the time the Panthers took him, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

While he’s a small-school player, that’s the kind of life skill that eclipses being able to cook like Eli Apple.

He’s a big, physical player with little name recognition, but that’s what Norman was before he developed into an All-Pro, but the Panthers are hoping he develops more quickly, since they have little to no depth at the position.

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Report: Some teams think Raiders 2nd rounder Jihad Ward needs knee scope

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 22: Christian Hackenberg #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions is hit for a sack by Jihad Ward #17 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois defeated Penn State 16-14. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders took Illinois defensive tackle Jihad Ward with the 44th overall pick of the draft on Friday night, adding to a defense that they’ve been building up over the last few years through free agency and the draft.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, some teams were concerned about the health of Ward’s knee and believe that he needs to have arthroscopic surgery that would keep him off the field for six weeks.

The Raiders are not one of those teams, however, and he’ll presumably be taking part in the team’s rookie minicamp before finishing out the rest of the offseason program. Ward only played two years at Illinois after starting his college career at the junior college level, but played with a lot of energy and has a build that could make him a fit at various positions across the defensive line in Oakland.

Oakland drafted Khalil Mack in the first round and added defensive tackle Justin Ellis in the fourth round of the 2014 draft before picking defensive end Mario Edwards in the second round last year. Edwards suffered a neck injury that has created some doubt about his availability in 2016.

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Washington pounces on Cravens before Pats can

Zz01MzE2ZDczODY4YWFjYTRmM2VmYjgwZGU3NTZlNzFlOA== AP

One of the more intriguing prospects in the draft has landed with his first NFL team, even though he thought it would be another one.

Washington made former USC linebacker Su’a Cravens the 53rd pick in the draft.

Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Mid-Atlantic, Cravens said he was surprised by the selection. He thought he would be picked by the Patriots.

Cravens can play safety and linebacker. He told reporters that Washington plans to use him as a linebacker in the dime defense, for now.

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Buccaneers trade up to take kicker Roberto Aguayo

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Kicker Roberto Aguayo #19 of the Florida State Seminoles kicks the game winning field goal against the Boston College Eagles during the game at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles defeated the Eagles 20-17. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Not only did the Buccaneers take a kicker in the second round, they traded up to get him.

The Bucs moved up to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo with the 59th overall pick, an aggressive move considering the teams immediately in front of them (New England and Carolina) weren’t really a danger to take one.

Aguayo left school a year early, but he already earned his degree and was the most accurate kicker in college football, so there wasn’t a lot left to prove.

He’s the highest-drafted kicker since Mike Nugent went in the second round (47th overall) in 2005.

The Bucs had Connor Barth and Patrick Murray on the roster, but that probably won’t last long, as putting such a premium on Aguayo means he’s the guy.

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Report: Jets still want Ryan Fitzpatrick

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets on the sidelines against the Houston Texans in the second quarter on November 22, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Even after adding former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in round two of the draft, giving the Jets three quarterbacks under contract, they still want to bring back last year’s unexpected starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Jets still want to bring back Fitzpatrick, but possibly only on a one-year deal.

That actually may help get the deal done. A league source recently told PFT that one of the sticking points between player and team relates to the fact that the Jets have been offering a three-year deal with a solid payout ($10 million or $11 million) in 2016 but much lower salaries in 2017 and 2018.

If Fitzpatrick returns, it means that either Geno Smith (a second-round pick in 2013) or Bryce Petty (a fourth-round pick in 2015) will be the odd man out. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t return, it’s hard to envision a new team that would pay him the kind of money he’s reportedly looking for.

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