By all appearances, the NFL finally has released evidence of the bounty program in New Orleans. Not directly, of course, but by leaking it to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports.
That said, the evidence given to Cole raises more questions than it answers.
Cole explains that the ledger maintained by the Saints identifies three separate $1,000 payments for supposed “cart-offs” during a game against the Buffalo Bills. But Cole doesn’t mention the players from the Bills who were injured.
Presumably, they were players from the Bills’ offense, right?
That’s not the case.
The Associated Press reported that four Bills were injured in the game. Three of them were members of the Buffalo defense: cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Donte Whitner, and safety Bryan Scott. On offense, left tackle Demetress (then Demetrius) Bell suffered a knee injury.
McKelvin suffered a broken leg, and he was placed on injured reserve. (It’s not entirely clear based on Cole’s report whether the notation in the ledger reflecting the placement of a player on injured reserve comes from the Buffalo game.)
So how were three $1,000 awards made for cart-offs when only one offensive player from the Bills was injured?
There are several explanations. The most likely is that the ledger isn’t accurate, and thus not entirely reliable. The least likely is that the ledger is fabricated, and thus completely unreliable.
Another possibility is that the money wasn’t paid based on the infliction of an injury, but on something like a big hit.
But what if the ledger is evidence that the bounty program crossed the lines of offense and defense, paying offensive players who inflicted injury on opposing defensive players? If there truly was a bounty program, it’s possible that the defense maintained the bounty program, and that the defense would decide to periodically kick some cash to offensive players who exhibited the mindset that the defense was cultivating. (It’s also possible that the injuries occurred during special-teams plays; either way, it shows that the program extended beyond the defense, if the information is true.)
The NFL never has claimed that offensive players were paid. But if the ledger is accurate, it’s possible that’s the only explanation.
And if that’s the case, Drew Brees will most definitely need an explanation.
UPDATE 11:56 p.m. ET: The answer, as it turns out, is that it wasn’t the Bills at all. Cole’s report has been revised to explain that the three $1,000 prizes were given not for the September game against the Bills but for a November game against the Panthers.