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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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Teddy Bridgewater falls to second round in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft

Teddy Bridgewater, Corey Jones AP

For most of the fall, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was talked about as being almost a lock to be the first quarterback selected in the NFL Draft and perhaps the first overall selection by the Houston Texans.

As the draft has drawn closer, that sentiment no longer seems to be the case. However, Bridgewater still seems likely to be one of the first few quarterbacks when the draft finally gets here on May 8. That hasn’t stopped a somewhat unexpected projected from Mel Kiper in his latest mock draft for ESPN.com on Thursday.

Kiper has Bridgewater falling out of the first round with the Houston Texans selecting him with the first pick of the second round.

Kiper’s reasoning is as follows:

“Let me be clear: This is the top-rated quarterback on my Big Board, a player I have rated higher than Bortles, Manziel or Carr,” Kiper wrote. “But my reading of the tea leaves in speaking with many evaluators around the league is that Bridgewater could drop if he slides past a couple of points early on. If I could project trades, I’d have someone taking him later in Round 1 having moved up. Obviously, he’s a steal at this point.”

Perhaps this is the tangible result of the draft being pushed back an extra two weeks. More time is available for front offices to out-think themselves or for teams to disparage a prospect in the hope he falls farther down on the draft board. It seems somewhat crazy that a quarterback some people still rank as the best in this draft could fall out of the first round based on a non-stellar pro day or workout instead of the performances at Louisville that grabbed the attention of scouts in the first place.

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Chargers pick up option on Corey Liuget

San Diego Chargers  v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers have joined the group of teams to exercise their fifth-year options on 2011 NFL Draft selections.

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Chargers have picked up their team option on defensive tackle Corey Liuget.

Liuget was the 18th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Liuget $6.969 million in 2015, per NFLPA records.

Liuget has started every game over the last two seasons for the Chargers. Liuget had 7.0 sacks for San Diego in 2012 and 5.5 sacks in 2013.

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Jets pick up option on Muhammad Wilkerson

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Jets Getty Images

With the deadline approaching for picking up fifth-year options for 2011 draft picks, the New York Jets have picked up their option on defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.

The Jets had always intended on picking up Wilkerson’s option year. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, that decision has been officially exercised.

Wilkerson was the 30th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Wilkerson $6.969 million in 2015.

Wilkerson racked up 10.5 sacks and 63 tackles with two forced fumbles and an interception for the Jets last season. He was named a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl alternate.

Wilkerson has said he wants to be a “Jet for life” and the option year could give the two sides more time to come to terms on a long-term extension.

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Report: Cowboys to pick up option year for Tyron Smith

Dallas Cowboys v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith has blossomed into one of the premier offensive linemen in the NFL over his first three seasons in the league. Smith was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season and was also named a second-team All-Pro.

As such, the Cowboys want to make sure he’s in Dallas for the foreseeable future. According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, the Cowboys have exercised their team option on Smith for the 2015 season.

Smith was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Smith equal to the amount of a transition tag for offensive linemen in 2015, which is $10.039 million. The two sides could also work out a long-term extension before the option year would go into effect.

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Donald Jones turns to baseball after kidney transplant

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Getty Images

Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones was forced to retire from the NFL last August after discovering he had a kidney disease that made it impossible to continue playing football.

Now just four months after a kidney transplant, Jones is trying to make his way back onto the field in a different sport.

According to Mike Ashmore of MyCentralJersey.com, Jones is playing outfield for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

After being released by the New England Patriots last July, Jones set up a workout with the Indianapolis Colts but had his blood pressure skyrocket during a stress test that ultimately convinced him he could no longer keep playing football. He was diagnosed with Berger’s Disease and required a transplant or kidney dialysis. He received a donor kidney from his father.

“It was scary, to say the least,” Jones said. “But I came to terms with everything, it was going to be what it was going to be. I was excited to get the whole thing over with and I was happy I didn’t have to do the dialysis.”

Jones was coming off his best season with the Bills in 2012. He caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns In his three years in Buffalo, he caught 82 passes for 887 yards and six touchdowns.

Jones played baseball through high school and is currently just working out with the Somerset Patriots.

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Bengals, A.J. Green not talking about a new contract yet

Green Getty Images

By May 3, the Bengals inevitably will exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green’s contract.  The bigger question is whether the Bengals will be extending Green’s contract by more than a year.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, talks on an extension for Green have not yet begun.  The fourth overall pick in 2011, Green has a strong argument that he deserves the contract now that he didn’t get three years ago under a rookie wage scale aimed at preventing busts from sucking millions out of the system.

But the Bengals hold his rights for two more years, giving them no reason to break the bank prematurely.  Even in 2016, they can use the franchise tag to hold him in place while working out a long-term deal.

Before that happens, Green could boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp.  The former isn’t very expensive; the latter would cost $30,000 per day.  For that reason, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.

Lewis said so during an interview at the recent league meetings in Orlando.  The clip that was televised Thursday on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk appears below.

Still, a holdout hasn’t been ruled out.  The source tells PFT that it’s too early to tell whether that will happen, and that the topic hasn’t been discussed yet.

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Report: 49ers not planning to release Aldon Smith

Smith AP

The 49ers may not be inclined to extend linebacker Aldon Smith’s stay until 2015, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with him in 2014.

The team currently doesn’t plan to release Smith, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

It’s not a surprise.  Cutting Smith would mean he would get a second chance with another team — possibly another team in the NFC West.  Since he doesn’t have four years of service, however, Smith would be subject to waivers.

Before cutting Smith, the 49ers surely would try to trade him.  Every player with talent gets a second chance, and every coach thinks he’s the guy who can get through to a player who doesn’t get it.

As we’ve previously explained, a pair of off-field incidents falling under the Personal Conduct Policy makes Smith susceptible to a suspension even without resolution of his pending charges.  Also, the 49ers could put Smith on the non-football injury/illness list if the team believes that his alcohol issues have returned, and that he needs further treatment.

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Ravens exercise 2015 option on Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith AP

The Ravens have indeed exercised their right to keep cornerback Jimmy Smith under contract through 2015.

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Ravens have picked up the fifth-year option on Smith, their 2011 first-round pick. Smith is now slated to make $6.898 million in 2015, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

In March, Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated the team would be picking up Smith’s option.

The 25-year-old Smith started all 16 games for Baltimore in 2013, defending 15 passes, recording two interceptions and notching 58 tackles. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Smith has ideal size for the position and seems likely to sign a lucrative multi-year contract at some point, given his skill and the demand for cornerbacks.

The Ravens took Smith 27th overall in 2011. They held the No. 26 pick, but time ran out on the pick after a trade with the Bears fell through. (Then-Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo took responsibility for the mishap.) The Chiefs, who had the 27th pick, took receiver Jonathan Baldwin at No. 26.

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Which 2011 first-round picks won’t have the option exercised?

Jake+Locker+Tennessee+Titans+v+Houston+Texans+4hOYVTZ1882l Getty Images

With NFL teams commencing the process of exercising fifth-year options on 2011 first-round picks, the real question becomes which players won’t have the option exercised.

So here’s a look at the candidates for getting the Spalding Smails treatment.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller:  With a six-game suspension last year and a late-season torn ACL, the Broncos possibly would at least consider the possibility of not picking up the option for the second overall pick in 2011.  It nevertheless would be a major surprise if they don’t trigger the option.

49ers linebacker Aldon Smith:  The 49ers reportedly are “very unlikely” to exercise the option on the seventh overall pick, due to multiple off-field issues.  There’s still no downside to using it, since it doesn’t become fully guaranteed until March 2015.  If they’re thinking about trading him, Smith could fetch more in return if his new team controls his rights for two years.

Titans quarterback Jake Locker:  How’s this for an inconsistency?  Locker, the eighth overall pick in 2011, remains on track to be the starter in 2014.  But the Titans aren’t expected to pick up the option.  For the oft-injured Locker, it makes plenty of sense.  Why give an injury-only guarantee to a guy who seemingly has been only injured since he entered the league?  The option for a quarterback taken in the top 10 would by $13 million; that’s more than Locker will make in his first four years, combined.

49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert:  The right to exercise the option was traded to San Francisco along with Gabbert’s rookie deal as the 10th overall pick.  While they could use a little leverage in their looming negotiations with Colin Kaepernick, the notion of paying Gabbert $13 million in 2015 isn’t leverage.  It’s lunacy.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder:  While much cheaper than Locker or Gabbert since Ponder wasn’t taken in the top 10, he’s still on the team only because his salary is low, as veteran quarterbacks go.

Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley:  The Lions already have said that the option won’t be exercised on Fairley, in order to give him incentive to play hard in 2014.  And if Fairley needs the promise of a long-term contract to play hard, why would the Lions want to give him the security of a long-term contract?

Danny Watkins:  The 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft was waived by the Eagles last year, and his contract went unclaimed.  With that, the ability to exercise the fifth-year option died.  He currently is a free agent.

49ers receiver Jonathan Baldwin:  Amazingly, the 49ers have three players with fifth-year options, and they’ll quite possibly exercise none of them.  Baldwin arrived via trade last year in exchange for 2012 first-round bust A.J. Jenkins.  Baldwin did nothing last year to merit consideration for a fifth year on his rookie deal.

Falcons offensive lineman Gabe Carimi:  His option evaporated after Carimi’s contract went unclaimed via waivers.  He’d been cut by the Buccaneers after being traded to Tampa by Chicago.  The Falcons signed Carimi as a free agent.

Packers tackle Derek Sherrod:  The last pick in round one from 2011 has appeared in 12 games over three seasons, with zero starts.

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Report: Texans pick up J.J. Watt’s 2015 contract option

J.J. Watt AP

Teams have until May 3 to declare whether they will extend the contracts of 2011 first-round picks through 2015.

However, the Texans didn’t wait until the first Saturday in May to pick up the 2015 option on one of the shining stars of the Class of 2011.

Via ESPN’s Field Yates, Houston has exercised the option to keep defensive lineman J.J. Watt under contract for a fifth season.

The Texans’ decision is hardly a surprise. The 25-year-old Watt is one of the game’s top defensive players, notching 217 tackles and 36.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons.

However, the timing of the Texans’ move is a little curious, given that the club has begun its offseason training. According to PFT’s Mike Florio, the fifth-year option has an injury-only guarantee. By officially extending Watt before the deadline, the Texans are perhaps taking on a risk of a freak injury in the first phase of workouts.

Nevertheless, the Texans have moved now to secure Watt under contract for at least two more seasons. The next logical step would be signing Watt long-term — a pact that seems likely to make him one of the game’s highest paid defenders at the very least.

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New stadium deal gives Bengals the green light to host games in London

San Diego Chargers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

For some NFL teams, a practical impediment exists to hosting games in London:  The stadium lease.

Some leases require all “home” games to be played in the home stadium, with no “home” games played elsewhere.  The Bengals’ lease at Paul Brown Stadium previously contained such a provision.  Now it doesn’t.

The Bengals announced a new agreement with Hamilton County that, among other things, “allows the Bengals to participate in the NFL’s International Series games.”

The team will contribute $6 million to stadium upgrades, and the venue will have new wireless Internet service, a high-definition scoreboard, a new weight room, new furniture in he Club Lounges, and an expanded locker room.  The Bengals also waived height restrictions aimed at ensuring views of the Ohio River and the Cincinnati skyline from the stadium.

The agreement flows from the county’s desire to upgrade a riverfront development known as “The Banks,” which could bring up to 2,000 General Electric jobs to the area.  It marks a shift in a hostile relationship between the team and Hamilton County executives.

“We wanted to demonstrate our interest in working together to ensure that The Banks is a viable location for this project,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in a release.  “We all know that the Cincinnati area is a great place to live and work.  Landing this project will let the nation know it as well.”

The release from the team refers to games being played abroad on a “periodic” basis, which implies that only seven regular-season games will be played in Cincinnati at least twice in the coming years.

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PFT’s 2014 NFL Draft visit / workout report is up and running

KHALIL MACK AP

As the 2014 NFL Draft approaches, we’re keeping tabs on prospect visits, workouts and meetings conducted by all 32 NFL teams. And to that end, we’ve compiled a working list of prospects linked to clubs that we’ll update until the draft begins on Thursday, May 8.

With every team talking to scores of draft-eligible players, it’s likely some workouts and/or visits haven’t made our original list. Moreover, a team won’t select many of the prospects with which it has contact before the draft.

Nevertheless, with the great interest in the draft, we offer the workout list as a resource for fans interested in how clubs are proceeding in the weeks leading up to the NFL’s annual selection meeting.

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Sheriff confirms McNabb served one day for misdemeanor DUI

Donovan McNabb AP

Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb spent a day in jail this week as a sentence for driving under the influence.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed in a statement that McNabb was booked in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Detention facility on and was released from county jail after serving one day for a misdemeanor DUI charge.

“I have had other high profile athletes who have been incarcerated with no problems and this latest athlete follows that same pattern,” Arpaio said.

Still unexplained is how McNabb managed to be arrested in December, arraigned in January, go through pre-trial conferences in February, have change-of-plea hearings in March and spend a day in jail in April without anyone in the media hearing a thing about it until today.

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Rolando McClain reinstated from reserve/retired list

Rolando McClain, Matt Shaughnessy

Linebacker Rolando McClain, who last played in 2012 with Oakland, has been reinstated from the reserve/retired list, the NFL disclosed in its Thursday transactions.

The Ravens hold McClain’s rights. He recently had a workout with Baltimore, but he did not perform especially well, according to multiple published reports.

It remains to be seen how the Ravens will proceed with the 24-year-old McClain. The Ravens commence offseason workouts on Monday, and were McClain on the roster, he could take part in the activities.

According to a 2008 Washington Post report on Brett Favre’s reinstatement from retirement, a player, once reinstated, has 24 hours to be added to the roster, given his release or traded to another club.

McClain recorded 246 tackles in three seasons with the Raiders, who took him eighth overall in the 2010 draft. The club released him last April.

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Jaguars’ Tandon Doss arrested for disorderly conduct, not charged

Jarrad Page, Tandon Doss, Brian Rolle AP

Jaguars receiver Tandon Doss was arrested on Wednesday in Indianapolis for disorderly conduct, but he will not be charged.

An Indianapolis police report describes Doss as “out of control” during a disturbance with another man. But the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to file charges.

The Jaguars have acknowledged they are aware of the matter but made no other comment.

Doss, who grew up in Indianapolis, was a 2011 fourth-round draft pick of the Ravens and spent his first three years in the NFL in Baltimore before signing this offseason with the Jaguars.

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