It was much easier to follow all of the developments in the Saints’ bounty scandal during the offseason, when games weren’t, you know, being played. It’s harder to find the time necessary to delve into the nooks and crannies of the case during the season, but I’ve finally managed to sit down and scrutinize the sworn statements submitted by former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
For each document, I’ve taken notes from the perspective of a lawyer representing the four players who now face reissued suspensions: Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove.
1. At paragraph 2, Cerullo’s statement says that he worked for the Saints from April 2007 until April 2010. He doesn’t address why he left the Saints in April 2010. So why did he leave? Was he fired or did he quit? Is there anything in his personnel file that would suggest issues with honesty? Did he leave with an axe to grind?
2. At paragraph 2, Cerullo says he worked as an offensive assistant from 2007 to 2008, and that he became a defensive quality control coach in 2009. Why did he switch from one side of the ball to the other? If it wasn’t working out on offense, why didn’t the Saints just let him go?
3. At paragraph 3, Cerullo says he’s “aware of and [has] provided additional information about the program to NFL investigators.” What other information is he aware of and what else has he provided?
4. At paragraph 3, Cerullo says he was assigned the task of administering the pay-for-performance program. Did he have any qualms about the program? Did he raise with Gregg Williams or anyone else the question of whether it complies with NFL rules? Did he report to his former bosses on offense what was happening?
5. At paragraph 5, Cerullo says dues of $100 were assessed on all participants in the program, before each game, along with fines for mental errors, lack of hustle, and a missed opportunity for a big play. Who gave money, and how much did each person give? Why haven’t they all been disciplined?
6. At paragraph 9, Cerullo says that he was responsible for physically handing out the cash to players. Who received cash, and how much did they receive? Why haven’t they all been disciplined?
7. At paragraph 10, Cerullo says his duties included keeping track of dues and fees owed, and that he made slides reminding players of overdue game dues and fines. Again, who paid money into the program, and why haven’t they all been disciplined?
8. At paragraph 11, Cerullo says that he was the “lower court” for disputes about fines and payouts. Who made complaints about money paid in and money received?
9. At paragraph 13, Cerullo says that Vilma produced “two five stacks” (i.e., $10,000) for anyone who knocked Kurt Warner out of the divisional playoff game, and that Cerullo collected the money and gave it to Williams for safekeeping. Where did the money come from? Was it Vilma’s own money, or did it come from someone else? Was it money from the pay-for-performance pool? Did Vilma engage in the exercise on his own or at the urging of someone else, like Williams?
10. At paragraph 14, Cerullo says that the money wasn’t paid because Warner wasn’t knocked out of the game. But he was, returning to the game later. So was any of the money (or any other money) paid out as a “cart-off” to Bobby McCray, who applied the post-interception hit to Warner? If not, why not?
11. At paragraph 15, Cerullo says that Fujita and Smith pledged money to the general pool in the meeting before the 2009 NFC title game, and that Cerullo was keeping track of the pledges. Why does Cerullo’s statement not mention his handwritten notes indicating that assistant head coach Joe Vitt pledged $5,000? Why did the NFL not discipline Vitt for this, or even investigate it? Why weren’t the notes attached as an exhibit to the sworn statement?
12. At paragraph 16, Cerullo says he involved in communications aimed at concealing the program from the league. He says he was told to delete documents regarding the pay-for-performance program from his computer, and that he was present for a meeting between Vitt and Hargrove, during which Hargrove was told to deny any knowledge of the pay-for-performance program, and Hargrove said, “I can lie with the best of them.” If the allegations in Vilma’s lawsuit regarding Cerullo are accurate, why did the Saints include him in these communications? Why didn’t the Saints negotiate a severance package that allowed him to talk about his employment with the Saints only if subject to a court order?
That last part, while irrelevant to the facts of the case, is perhaps the most amazing. Regardless of why Cerullo spoke to the league and whether what he said is accurate, it’s common for employers to offer extra money to employees who may be disgruntled and/or who may know to much both to avoid a lawsuit and to buy their silence going forward.
Over the years, it’s become obvious that the Saints have a problem with disgruntled employees who are motivated to take action against the team. The Saints also have a problem, in our view, in the legal department. The Saints never should have let Cerullo leave without ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to blab later, and the lesson for the Saints and every other NFL team (and every other employer) is to be sure that procedures are in place to spot those employees who know enough to cause trouble later — and to ensure that they legally can share that knowledge only if legally required to do so.
In this case, if Cerullo had received, say, an extra $10,000 in exchange for his silence, none of this ever would have come to light.
None of this makes the pay-for-performance program right or wrong. It’s just a basic reality of managing risk and limiting potential liabilities. In this case, someone should have realized that Cerullo could be a problem later. In the movies, Cerullo would have been whacked. In the real world, Cerullo would have gotten some extra money in his final paycheck and he would have signed a 10-page document that included language preventing him from blowing whistles or otherwise talking to anyone about anything unless and until he was legally required to do so.