Regardless of whether Sean Payton and Gregg Williams fear the NFL’s stick, they have good reason to be concerned that the NFL will remove its carrot.
Lost to date in the discussion regarding whether coaches caught up in the bounty scandal fear retribution from the league office if they talk is the reality that there’s something other than possible retribution at play here.
When the NFL rejected the appeals of Payton, interim head coach Joe Vitt, G.M. Mickey Loomis, and the Saints, the league extended an olive branch of sorts.
“The club and the individuals will be expected to cooperate in any further proceedings and to assist in the development and implementation of programs to instruct players and coaches at all levels on principles of player safety, fair play, and sportsmanship,” the league explained in its April 9 announcement.
“If they embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way, Commissioner Goodell said he would consider mitigating the financial penalties on the individuals. In the case of the team, the Commissioner would consider whether there are factors that would support modifying the forfeiture of the team’s 2013 second-round draft choice.”
And so Payton, Vitt, and the Saints have a strong incentive to say or do nothing that in any way could be characterized as anything other than cooperation with the league’s overall mission. If they do, Payton and Vitt may get some of their money back — and the Saints could recover the team’s second-round pick in 2013, with the lost pick replaced by the forfeiture of one or more picks in lower rounds.
That said, there’s also a stick lurking in the league’s ruling: “At the conclusion of their suspensions, the Commissioner will review the status of each of the three individuals to determine their eligibility for reinstatement.”
The smart move for Payton, Vitt, Loomis, the Saints generally, and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who didn’t appeal but who likewise must apply for reinstatement) will be to say nothing at all publicly, in order to avoid any risk that the league will be nudged toward concluding that they have failed to cooperate.
Of course, that didn’t stop Vitt from sounding off. Ultimately, it may not stop Williams from doing the same. But it’s likely an important reason why we haven’t heard more from the non-players who were suspended.