The NFL eventually intends to impose discipline on multiple players involved in the Saints’ bounty program. After that happens, the players will have the right to appeal, either to Ted Cottrell or Art Shell (if the punishment is imposed for on-field conduct, like making an illegal hit for money) or to the Commissioner (if the punishment is imposed for off-field conduct, like funding the bounty system).
Either way, hearings will be held. At the hearings, the NFL will be required to submit evidence. And much of the evidence will come from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
As explained in Wednesday’s announcement from the league: “Coach Williams acknowledged that he designed and implemented the program with the assistance of certain defensive players. He said that he did so after being told by Saints Head Coach Sean Payton that his assignment was to make the defense ‘nasty.’ Coach Williams described his role as overseeing record keeping, defining payout amounts, deciding on who received payouts, and distributing envelopes with cash to players who ‘earned’ rewards.”
And so the league will need Williams to show up at the hearings and tell the hearing officer what Williams told the NFL when Williams finally confessed to being the man who “designed and implemented the program.” The fact that the league knows Williams did so “with the assistance of certain defensive players” means that those “certain defensive players” can expect to be punished, with the punishments supported by Williams’ testimony.
That’s likely one of the reasons why the NFL opted not to impose a lifetime ban on Williams. If banned, he’d have no reason to show up and testify. By suspending him for a year and explaining that his prospects for reinstatement will depend in part on “the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings,” the NFL essentially is using reinstatement as the carrot that will entice Williams to testify effectively in the appeal hearings.
The fact that the Rams inexplicably haven’t yet fired the man they say they never would have hired if they’d known about the bounty system could be part of the plan to make Williams think he has a realistic chance of getting back in. With a plausible belief that his job is waiting for him, Williams will have an extra incentive to ensure that the forthcoming suspensions survive the appeal process.
In the end, the NFL may decide that Williams should never be reinstated. Or perhaps the Rams will fire him and no one else will hire him. Regardless, the NFL can’t cut him loose for now, because the league needs the man it has suspended indefinitely, or the league definitely will be unable to make the player suspensions stick.
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