If the NFL has “smoking gun” evidence to prove that four suspended players participated in a bounty program with the Saints, the NFL has opted not to use it in Monday’s appeal hearings, because the NFL has not produced it three days in advance of the hearings, as required by the labor deal.
Instead, the league produced on Friday fewer than 200 pages of information, none of which reportedly show that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita paid or offered to pay money for the infliction of injury on an opponent, or received money for doing so.
So what should the NFL be doing to prove involvement in a bounty system, if such evidence exists? It would be fairly simple, and it could be accomplished quickly at Monday’s hearings.
First, the league should call former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to testify about the specific involvement of any players in establishing, maintaining, funding, and/or receiving money from a bounty program.
Second, the league should call to testify anyone who heard Vilma offer $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre or Kurt Warner out of 2009 playoff games.
Third, the league should introduce as exhibits statements obtained from anyone/everyone who corroborated the existence of a bounty program, and/or the specific involvement of the suspended players.
Fourth, the league should introduce proof, via testimony from the Saints’ coaches, that money was indeed paid to players who inflicted injury on opponents. (If that never happened, how could the pay-for-performance program ever have become a bounty program?)
If the NFL has such evidence, the NFL apparently doesn’t plan to use it on Monday. The league’s intention to proceed without that evidence continues to highlight the biggest question presented by the bounty cases: Does any evidence of player involvement actually exist?