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Payton explains “ducks in a row” comment

1221_jargon-ducks-in-a-row_485x340 Getty Images

From the moment the NFL pulled the sheet off the Saints bounty case, the NFL accused Saints coach Sean Payton of telling his staff to “get your ducks in a row” when the league first investigated the situation in early 2010.

Here’s how we explained it on March 7, quoting from the NFL’s initial report:  “When NFL Security went to interview Saints employees, coach Sean Payton instructed his staff to ‘get your ducks in a row.’  The report doesn’t elaborate on the meaning of Payton’s remark; he quite possibly was telling the assistant coaches to get their stories (or, as the case may be, their categorical denials) straight.”

But the NFL elaborated on”get your ducks in a row” two weeks later, explaining in the statement announcing Payton’s suspension that he “encourage[d] the false denials by instructing assistants to ‘make sure our ducks are in a row.’”

On Friday’s PFT Live, I asked Payton whether he said “get your ducks in a row,” and if so what he meant by that.

“It was really a comment that I had made in preparation for what I knew was going to be an investigation,” Payton said.  “I had been contacted, our front office had been, . . . and I wanted to make sure, more importantly than anything else that anyone that was going to be investigated or questioned had their facts straight and the specifics of it.”

Asked specifically whether he was suggesting that the coaches should lie, Payton said, “I think more than anything else it just meant be prepared and, listen, I’ve read and seen a lot of the reports about what that was insinuating and I think, you know, we’re stretching it or really looking for something there.  It really wasn’t what I was insinuating at all.”

To be clear, the NFL never insinuated that.  The NFL flat-out said it, assuming that Payton meant he wanted his assistants to lie based on the perception that they did lie.  But given that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue found that defensive end Anthony Hargrove — who was suspended eight games by Roger Goodell for allegedly lying at the behest of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt — may not have been lying based on the specific questions he was asked, then the presumption that getting “our ducks in a row” was an instruction to tell lies may have been erroneous.

As we wrote after Tagliabue scuttled the player suspensions in December, “In fairness to Payton, ‘making sure our ducks are in a row‘ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘making sure our lies are in a row.’  Lawyers routinely prepare witnesses before hearings and trials not with the goal of suborning perjury but of ensuring that an inadvertent misstatement of fact doesn’t provide the opposition with an unintended ‘gotcha’ moment.”

Though Payton is now back and the process has concluded, the fact remains that the NFL’s presumed smoking gun in the case supporting Payton’s full-season suspension may not have been.

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34 Responses to “Payton explains “ducks in a row” comment”
  1. thesmartest1 says: Jan 27, 2013 7:55 AM

    Seriously? I would think the comment meant get your sh!t together. Not get your lies lined up.

  2. blackcatnfl says: Jan 27, 2013 8:00 AM

    Maybe he just was referring to the duck toys in the team hot tub, and he wanted to make sure they were all in a row so the place didn’t look messy!

  3. blackcatsluck says: Jan 27, 2013 8:01 AM

    A whole year to think about it and that’s the best he could come up with?

  4. blackcatsluck says: Jan 27, 2013 8:05 AM

    PS: No, I don’t entirely buy the pay for injury thing, but they admitted to breaking the rules by the the pay for performance program. They did it and ultimately admitted they knew it was a violation while they were doing it.

  5. cwwgk says: Jan 27, 2013 8:05 AM

    He has to give a directive for everyone to tell the same story? Well, that presumes there’s more than one. Add to that Hargrove’s own declaration released by his own lawyers in which Hargrove stated that he was instructed by two of his/Payton’s own coaches to deny everything to league investigators, and any suggestion that there wasn’t a cover up disintegrates entirely.

    I would think the author would have touched on the concept of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

    If it looks like a duck…

  6. clw1906 says: Jan 27, 2013 8:09 AM

    Rumor is he also said the weather in Vermont will be brisk but sunny. The CIA is still working in cracking this code.

  7. benroethlisberger7 says: Jan 27, 2013 8:13 AM

    Drew Brees is satisfied with this explanation.

  8. sfm073 says: Jan 27, 2013 8:22 AM

    Was this really the reason he was suspended?

  9. saintsly says: Jan 27, 2013 8:29 AM

    If I was being audited by the IRS, I would want my CPA to have his “Ducks in a row” to show that what has been presented as truth…………..Not to deceive in any way. The term does not mean to lie or cheat for personal gain but could be misinterpreted as being deceptive. The whole Bounty farce was just that…………..A Farce, perpetrated by GOD-ell.

  10. mcoomer146 says: Jan 27, 2013 8:30 AM

    This is over now, Vilma’s lawsuit was thrown out, Sean Payton served his suspension and has a new contract. No reason to keep drawing this out.

  11. melikefootball says: Jan 27, 2013 8:40 AM

    Another story of the NFL players ,coaches cheating and in the end get away with it.

  12. dcmaxx says: Jan 27, 2013 8:41 AM

    “Drew Brees is satisfied with this explanation”

    This comment is just as unfunny and unoriginal as the first 100 times someone posted something similar on here.

  13. uglynora says: Jan 27, 2013 9:02 AM

    Get your ducks in a row. Beginning the punishment phase of this investigation by assuming that phrase means telling your people to lie is the problem I have with this investigation in a nutshell. Rog went into this thing with a bias and every word that was spoken and every action that was taken was perceived to enhance his bias even when there was as much or more proof to the contrary. He should be removed from his post.

  14. chattanola says: Jan 27, 2013 9:13 AM

    The league misrepresented many aspects of this issue in order to sway public opinion. When any accused person is to be investigated, wouldn’t it be common sense for him to get his ducks in a row to prepare for what’s coming?

    BTW, the whole interview was great.

    I’m used to hearing Payton drone on in coachspeak in post game press conferences. The questions to him were varied and direct and it was refreshing to hear some candor in his answers.

    Also, good get! Mike.

  15. cowboyscanada says: Jan 27, 2013 9:33 AM

    Drew Brees continues to make it seem like all the allegations were false. Payton says they made mistakes etc and basically admits to it. Is Brees that dumb that he thinks ppl still believe him? What a moron.

  16. whatjusthapped says: Jan 27, 2013 9:56 AM

    Say what you want about it but this is similar to Watergate in that it wasn’t so much about the crime as the coverup.

    The Saints were punished far more for their institutional lying and coverup than the actual bounty program. That’s what makes the Saints fans collective response so entertaining. They keep arguing the facts as if they were singled out for something everybody has done all the while ignoring the lying that took place.

  17. questforthesixthnotthelast2013 says: Jan 27, 2013 10:07 AM

    Since when does “getting your ducks in a row” mean anything near lie through your teeth and deny all.
    the Jets should be looking to this circus for pointers!

  18. vegasvinnie says: Jan 27, 2013 10:15 AM

    blackcatsluck says:
    Jan 27, 2013 8:01 AM
    A whole year to think about it and that’s the best he could come up with?
    ====================================

    The NFL had 3 years. The best that they could produce was far worse.

  19. boobsmcgoo says: Jan 27, 2013 10:38 AM

    melikefootball says:
    Jan 27, 2013 8:40 AM
    Another story of the NFL players ,coaches cheating and in the end get away with it.

     ——
    Get away with it? He was suspended for an entire year! This was an unprecedented punishment for a coach in the NFL.

  20. cardinalsfan87 says: Jan 27, 2013 10:43 AM

    The saints were guilty as sin. It’s amazing how karma always wins. Look at their season.

  21. dcmaxx says: Jan 27, 2013 10:45 AM

    “Payton says they made mistakes etc and basically admits to it”

    Basically admits to what?? That’s where you Saints haters rush to judgement and assume the worst.

  22. pawpaw46 says: Jan 27, 2013 11:10 AM

    The NFC and the NFC South in particular, better get their ducks in a row.
    Because hells comin next season, and it’ll be wearin a Fleur de Lis…

  23. marcinhouston says: Jan 27, 2013 11:21 AM

    Someone should have told Roger Goodell to get his ducks in a row.

  24. bgrab1 says: Jan 27, 2013 11:28 AM

    I cant wait for the owners meetings in March. That hopefully will be when the real Karma takes place for ole Roger Dodger. He is a Joke of a Commissioner. Should have been fired a long time ago.

  25. hor2012 says: Jan 27, 2013 11:37 AM

    blackcatsluck says:
    Jan 27, 2013 8:05 AM
    PS: No, I don’t entirely buy the pay for injury thing, but they admitted to breaking the rules by the the pay for performance program. They did it and ultimately admitted they knew it was a violation while they were doing it.

    As a Saints fan I totally agree with this post. If he were suspending the Saints for running a pay for performance program after they were told to stop I don’t have a problem with that. The issue I have is that’s not the reasons RG gave for his actions. And, the longer this goes that more it seems that what you posted is actually the reason of the suspensions. If RG would have said that’s the reason for the year long suspensions was running pay for performance I would still have been pissed but I would have long sense let this go. But, they way he presented this was that the Saints were guilty of the most horrific crimes in the history of sports. And, that simply wasn’t true.

  26. johnnyb216 says: Jan 27, 2013 11:51 AM

    This could set him up nicely for an Afalc endorsement.

  27. chattanola says: Jan 27, 2013 11:57 AM

    “Payton says they made mistakes etc and basically admits to it.”

    Um, did you listen to Mike’s interview with the coach? He asked Payton that very question (‘What mistakes…?’)

    How does “mistakes were made” translate to “Hey, he admitted to everything” ?

    “Is Brees that dumb…”? No, he isn’t.

  28. infectorman says: Jan 27, 2013 12:45 PM

    “Get your ducks in a row”, Can mean almost anything depending on the context of the dialogue.

    Saints fans who continue to mitigate the facts are delusional.
    Mistakes were made, as in “continuing to lie about whatever illegal program they had in place” is the issue.
    Not so much the program itself.
    Since none of you Saint fans were actually IN the conversation, its ridiculous to suppose you know what it meant.
    And yes, Drew Brees is by far the most idiotic QB going in this league. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut, but he couldn’t stop screaming from the highest mountain that the league was dreaming up the whole episode.
    Brees is as stupid as he obviously believed the general public to be.

  29. humpofdc says: Jan 27, 2013 1:10 PM

    Interpretation: “Get your lies straight.”

  30. 504in860 says: Jan 27, 2013 1:20 PM

    cardinalsfan87 says:
    Jan 27, 2013 10:43 AM
    The saints were guilty as sin. It’s amazing how karma always wins. Look at their season.
    —————————–

    An equally amazing and hilarious comment from a Cardinals fan.

  31. dcmaxx says: Jan 27, 2013 1:28 PM

    “Since none of you Saint fans were actually IN the conversation, its ridiculous to suppose you know what it meant.”

    But apparently you were IN the conversation and know what it meant, genius??

  32. CKL says: Jan 27, 2013 1:54 PM

    Regardless of what he meant by it there are about 22 franchises that would be better if he were their HC. And a lot of those remaining 12 are teams that just hired their own new HCs so don’t know what they have yet.
    Goodell likes to make examples of people as a deterrent for future behavior. That’s what he did with my team and with the Saints (and with Roethlisberger). The huge punishments for the teams make average fans think OMG they did something SO HORRIBLE why would they be punished like that if they didn’t!!!! Meanwhile, the amount of punishment in proportion to the actual wrongdoing was like executing someone for speeding.

  33. matthewcarlson1 says: Jan 27, 2013 2:36 PM

    Can we just call him the cheater or the fallen instead of Payton? I keep clicking these stories by accident, I really could not care less about the Taints and their “coach.” Peyton Manning is Peyton, Payton is the tainted one, ok?

  34. badintent says: Jan 27, 2013 6:30 PM

    That mess is the rearview mirror was the Saints team trying to make a tackle on Manster Lynch in the playoff game. So what’s change since then ?Nothing. Team still can’t stop anyone without a SWAT team. you can get great FA O guys but your D looks like Notre Dame ‘s vs Bama.

    Reggie Bush approved this message

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