When the NFL initially cracked the case of the Saints’ bounty program, coach Sean Payton didn’t believe he’d be suspended at all. Once Payton appreciated the gravity of the situation, he understood a suspension was coming.
A league source tells PFT that Payton and the Saints specifically expected a four-game suspension. Per the source, a plan already had been concocted for getting the interim head coach ready to take the reins, and Payton would have hunkered down and spent the month preparing for the games to be played later in the season.
And so a full-season suspension was jarring to Payton and to the organization. But, really, what did they expect?
For starters, suspending a head coach for anything less than a full year is impractical. That topic was debated extensively during Spygate. If Patriots coach Bill Belichick had been sent home for a few weeks in 2007, he would have kept right on working, emerging even more prepared for the games he would have coached upon his return. Also, absent ’round-the-clock surveillance, there’s no way to know that he wouldn’t have been secretly communicating with players or assistant coaches.
While a one-year suspension doesn’t guarantee that Payton will keep his distance, having him out of the picture for a full season as of April 1 gives the punishment a finite feel, forcing the remaining coaches to find a way to get it done without him.
That’s not to say Payton’s actions merited less than a year and the league simply rounded way up for ease of enforcement. Though the NFL didn’t harp on the dishonesty angle in the initial announcement regarding the bounty program, the release regarding the punishment makes it crystal clear that Goodell was as troubled by the pattern of lies as he was by the underlying misconduct.
“Clearly, we were lied to,” Goodell said Wednesday on NFL Network. “[T]his went on for three years and it was investigated, we were misled, and there were denials throughout that period.”
As we explained two weeks ago, the March 2 NFL Security report explains that, when the league first investigated the situation in 2010, Payton instructed his staff to “get your ducks in a row.” Wednesday’s announcement explains that, in the league’s opinion, Payton’s comment was intended to “encourage false denials.”
Then, after the false denials, the bounties brazenly continued for two years under Payton’s watch.
Considering those basic facts, it’s hard to understand why the Saints expected a suspension of only four games. Truth be told, Payton should consider himself fortunate it wasn’t worse.