The many challenges that the NFL confronts in taking a stand regarding the Saints’ three-year habit of paying players to inflict injury on opponents — a practice that continued for two seasons after the Saints knew the league office was investigating the situation — include determining an appropriate point at which any evidence of bounties used by other teams will be neither investigated nor punished. If Commissioner Roger Goodell hammers only the Saints, it may not be enough to point to the fact that the Saints brazenly and flagrantly and repeatedly broke the rules. The league also may have to reach back and punish other teams that used bounties, if sufficient evidence can be found.
The franchise that would appear to be “on deck” for that next level of investigation and enforcement is the Redskins. Multiple players already have said that former Saints, Jaguars, Redskins, and Titans (and quite possibly soon-to-be- former Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used a similar bounty system in D.C. Former Redskins assistant coach Greg Blache has also pointed a finger at Williams, while protecting former head coach Joe Gibbs, who has said he knew nothing about it.
And now the fingers are being pointed at Gibbs.
“That’s just too stupid,” former Redskins offensive lineman George Starke recently said, via the Washington Post. “Of course he knew.”
Starke explained the procedures that applied when he played with the team in the 1980s. “[I]n the meeting after the game, Joe Gibbs would come in, he’d have a fistful of $100 bills,” Starke said. “And if Dexter knocked the quarterback down three times, he would get three hundred-dollar bills. And Joe would pass the money out in the meeting, and we would have to duck.”
In response, Gibbs admitted to Jason Reid of the Post that Gibbs once used a program of this nature. “In my first stint coaching the Redskins, we did have an incentive program in place to recognize the guys for outstanding plays made within the rules of the game,” Gibbs said. “Back then there was no salary cap and the incentive program we used was within the league rules. We had all kinds of incentives, including dinners at local restaurants, radios, the chance to sit in a lazy-boy recliner during team meetings and cash rewards. To be clear — we only used rewards as a motivational tool and to recognize the guys who made positive plays in the game each week.”
Though some continue to be unable to understand that highly-paid players somehow find extra motivation in getting a little extra money, they do. And it apparently has been part of the game for decades.
The problem is that Williams took it too far, at least in New Orleans or possibly elsewhere, tying payments to taking players out of a game.
The reality is that players already understand the benefit to the team of knocking key players out of a game. Williams and the Saints hurt themselves, and the rest of the league, by converting what was an open secret into something that feels far more malicious and nefarious.
Starke explained the mindset perfectly. “Knock him out?” he said. “Of course. You’ve got to knock them out. We’re paid to knock them out. Really, when I hear people talk about hurting someone, I’m thinking trying to hurt his knee or something like that. You’ve got to remember, it’s not until very recently that this whole brain stuff has come up, so really, I’m not sure today if the players today look at that the same. That’s a good question. But you have to understand, knocking someone out, it’s like being a boxer. You’re job is to knock the guy out.”
That’s where the culture change that the NFL currently is trying to implement comes into play. The league wants players and coaches to remove that type of thinking from the game. Though it may not be possible to do, ensuring that no team tries to provide players extra motivation to knock guys out of games is the obvious place to start.
Whatever Goodell does in response to the Saints’ bounty system, it’s safe to assume that the punishment will ensure no other team will risk being the next team to be caught doing it.