Haystack of NFL evidence has a few possible bounty needles

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The 50,000 pages in the bounty file became fewer than 200 that were given to the NFLPA on Friday, which via careful, time-consuming, page-by-page scrutiny by yours truly reveal a handful of documents that suggest the existence of a bounty program in New Orleans.

There’s no doubt that the Saints maintained an illegal pay-for-performance program, which rewarded defensive players for good plays and penalized them for mental errors and penalties. For that violation, the coaches and the team should indeed be punished.  As to player discipline, the question is whether and to what extent players offered, paid, or received money for the infliction of injury on opponents.

As Gantt mentioned on Monday afternoon, one document indicates that several persons pledged money to what is described in at least one of the other documents as a “kitty pool” for the 2009 NFC title game against the Vikings, and that several of the contributions were tied to the opposing quarterback, Brett Favre.

The league didn’t produce to the NFLPA a copy of the handwritten notes.  Instead, the league converted the handwritten notes into a typed document, providing the typed document and not the handwritten notes.

For the non-lawyers in the crowd, this is very unusual.  Disputes routinely involve handwritten notes, which may or may not readily be legible.  The standard procedure in such situations is to:  (1) figure out who wrote the notes; and (2) question that person as to what the notes say.  In 18 years of practicing law, I never encountered or heard of a party to any type of litigation converting handwritten notes to typed notes, producing the typed notes, and not producing the handwritten notes for scrutiny and witness questioning.

In this case, at a bare minimum, the NFL should have produced both — especially since the NFLPA will now argue that the typed version does not qualify as an acceptable alternative, and that the typed notes should not be considered because they weren’t produced at least three days before the appeal hearing.

With that caveat, the typed translation of the handwritten notes state “Vilma $10,000 QB,” which the NFL presumably interprets as linebacker Jonathan Vilma pledging $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the game.  The document similarly indicates that defensive end Charles Grant pledged $10,000 with the “QB” designation, as did non-Saints employee Mike Ornstein.  The notes likewise reflect that assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt contributed $5,000 to the “QB out pool,” and that linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Will Smith contributed $2,000 and $5,000, respectively, to the “General Pool.”  (Vitt’s lawyer, David Cornwell told PFT on Monday night that Vitt was never accused nor suspected of contributing money to a bounty pool.)  Finally, safety Darren Sharper pledged $5,000 for a “Pick 6” and “QB hits.”

Another document (also a typed version of handwritten notes) lists a variety of names and amounts, with no specific designation as to what the amount reflects.  The presence of Ornstein on the list, along with $5,000, suggests that it’s a list of pledges for an unknown game.  Vilma is down for $2,000, Smith for $1,500, Grant for $1,500, linebacker Scott Shanle for $500, cornerback Leigh Torrence for $500, and “Evans” (presumably linebacker Troy) for $500.  The document in a separate column states “Fujita to DL,” with “$500 Sack” and “$500 FF” below that.

Other documents raise questions, including a 2009 email from Ornstein to Gregg Willliams regarding future contributions from Ornstein, and an October 11, 2009 email from former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo to Williams that says, “Here’s Ornstein’s slide, I also added Jets injury to our Monday slide . . . Here’s what it looks like.”  (The Saints played the Jets on October 4; October 11 was the Sunday of the Saints’ bye week.)

One item lists the “Kill the Head Totals” for 2010, with Vilma leading the way at 62.  It’s unclear what “Kill the Head” means in that context.  Another document shows safety Roman Harper being paid $1,000 for a “cart-off” against the Giants, with no indication as to the subject of the “cart-off” or what specifically happened to him.

Finally, the slide containing the photo of “Dog The Bounty Hunter” looks bad on the surface, but it seems to be an exaggeration, with entries like “Must suspected be delivered dead or alive?”

Though most of the documents produced by the NFL to the NFLPA contain no evidence of a bounty program, a few of the pages keep the bounty case alive.  But it may not be enough to constitute persuasive and adequate evidence that players paid, offered to pay, or received money for inflicting injuries — especially without the handwritten notes and in the absence of testimony from the person(s) who created them.

64 responses to “Haystack of NFL evidence has a few possible bounty needles

  1. The Saints are evil.

    I’d like to see Vilma swear an oath in a federal court that he never offered $10,000 for knocking out Favre. You know, at the level where lying about such matters is a serious offense in itself.

  2. “One item lists the “Kill the Head Totals” for 2010, with Vilma leading the way at 62. It’s unclear what “Kill the Head” means in that context.”

    Kill the head and the body will DIE is what Gregg Williams kept preaching in that video.

    Could be taken as concussion inducing head shots, or kills…..

  3. Kill the head clearly means that Vilma killed 62 heads. The question now becomes where are the bodies hidden? Since we are taking everything that Gregg Williams said literally, i cant believe Vilma killed 62 heads without anybody ever noticing. Wow. Vilma is a more efficient serial killer than Charles Manson!!!

  4. Under the rules, this is an appeal, correct? So, the burden of proof shifts to the players. What evidence did they provide? Per all reports, none of the players challenged the substance of the charges, they tried to attack Goodell’s level of power and his ability to punish them. What evidence did they offer?

  5. Florio you are right I’m a non-lawyer type. Let me explain something to you lawyer types. This is not a “case”. It’s not being handled in a court of law. So nothing you said is relevant to the appeals hearing held Friday. The NFL has no burden to produce the evidence to the player(s) or NFLPA at any point. If the player feels he has been wrongly accused he can always sue his employer in this case the NFL. Then and only then will they have to produce the evidence. And then the burden of proof is still different. They would just need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they had the low threshold of evidence required to take disciplinary action in this work dispute, that is protected from union grievances per the current CBA. In other words, in discipline matters the players have the same rights as your average McDonald’s worker. And they can thank the NFLPA for agreeing to such a thing in the current CBA! The NFLPA and the players have no recourse here, and they sealed their own fates when they signed that CBA.

  6. I found the NFLPA explanation of the exhibits quite useful. If any of you have not visited the NFLPA web site and seen all the evidence, and the NFLPA’s 5 page exhibit explaining some of the evidence, I suggest checking it out.

    Also, I noticed that the players were monetarily PENALIZED for mental errors, *late hits*, and a variety of other sloppy plays.

    In summary, the evidence clearly proves a pay for performance program, as well as a penalty for performance program. The money that was put in for penalties appears to have been given back out to players who made important plays.

    The players and the league both agree that a pay for performance program went on.

    I see little evidence of a pay for injury program. Only one slide, which lists Vilma giving $10,000 and a few other people offering money for a “QB out” during the Vikings game is concerning. However, the NFL won’t say where they got the graphic, apparently based on a hand-written note, and they won’t show the hand-written note. Some of the emails were provided by the disgruntled employee, and if that ex-employee provided the handwritten note, it would not help the NFL’s case. However, I also found it very notable that the players and the NFLPA never mention the note/diagram (I think it is Exhibit 10, if I remember correctly.) It would seem like the NFLPA would have explained this slide if they felt that it was fake, but they simply did not discuss it.

    Basically, other than that one slide, I saw little pay to injure evidence, but I did see PLENTY of pay for performance and a penalty for performance.

  7. After watching this video: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-total-access/09000d5d829f028c/NFL-reveals-video-evidence-of-Saints-Bounty-program?module=HP11_headline_stack

    and watching the reactions of the three players in the picture listening to the Coach Vitt say Favre’s leg is broken, I am somewhat totally convinced that something was going on. The way their eyes kind of lit up and you get a sense of them thinking who did it? and then of course Hargrove speaks up and says “Pay me my money”… all of this starting around 5:06…

    After watching it again, right when Vitt says “I think Favre broke his leg…” keep your eyes on Hargrove and you can why Vitt snapped and said “LISTEN TO ME!”… it was because Hargrove began to make a gesture with a face like “OH SNAP! THAT WAS ME!!”

    This whole ride the Union is putting on is completely childish and so unprofessional. Such selfish individuals who truly only care about their image.

  8. This is just so out of control, its ridiculous. I have travelled to all parts of the world, and believe me, the bounty scandal is insignificant in the big picture.
    People are starving in the world. People live in great poverty, and we have to listen to millionaires and billionaires argue with each other!
    I love football, but lets give this gong show a rest!

  9. Roger cant produce the notes because he tossed them in the same incinerator that he burned the spygate tapes in. We can just trust Ole Rog. He’s always been a straight shooter.

  10. “Adequate evidence” to whom? Goodell has necessarily already found the evidence to be adequate by virtue of having issued suspensions. He obviously is not now going to find the notes to be inadequate and/or untimely. This reminds me of when Drew Brees was repeatedly saying he would wait for the facts to come out, when in reality the league had already determined the facts.

  11. Excellent rundown Mike…thanks!

    In sum, Goodell continues to exaggerate, obsfucate, and fabricate…in other words LIE!

  12. I would think Vilma having 62 “kill the head” payments supports the players’ contention that “kill the head” wasn’t literal and instead was just big hits/stops that limited YAC. It’s either that or Vilma injured players or headhunted 62 times and nobody – not the league office, not the refs on field, not the media, NOBODY – noticed at the time.

  13. Kill the heads totals?
    Cart offs?

    These players should be permanently banned. Plus ,why haven’t the Feds been involved? These players should be locked up for years along with their dirtbag coaches. Getting paid to hurt someone is ILLEGAL.I haven’t been this disgusted since reading about Mike Vicks dogs.

    What a total disgrace. The NFL gave them a slap on the wrist compared to what they should have gotten. Disgusting.

  14. If Vilma loses in the NFL’s system, but wins in a real courtroom, then it means the NFL system needs to change. As it stands, Goodell can publicly accuse any player of anything, and have the media report it over and over for 3 months until the public accepts it as fact, before there’s ever a hearing with the player. If a player happens to be innocent of the accusation, he has no way to defend himself until after his punishment has been announced. That’s just not right, and I can understand Vilma and Fajita’s frustration.

  15. It’s all BS. Goodell is a borderline crook.

    The typed version is not acceptable unless the handwritten copy is stapled to it. Just like book reports and such back in the day.

  16. Isnt this the crux of the whole thing: that Goodell can and does punish by what he believes to be true and not by what he can provide proof for. Pay for performance has been in the NFL forever and will never leave (or a O-line will never be taken to dinner by a QB for fear of a year out of football) and a pure “bounty” system is wrong. That being said, Goodell must abide by the rules as well as the players and by the CBA the ONLY evidence now in play is what was released to the players on Friday and punishment must be doled out on that basis ONLY, not what other things Goodell believes went on.

  17. “Though most of the documents produced by the NFL to the NFLPA contain no evidence of a bounty program, a few of the pages keep the bounty case alive. But it may not be enough to constitute persuasive and adequate evidence that players paid, offered to pay, or received money for inflicting injuries — especially without the handwritten notes and in the absence of testimony from the person(s) who created them.”
    Mike, the problem is you seem to keep thinking of this as a court case. It isn’t. It’s an internal disciplinary action taken by an individual/group empowered through a CBA to investigate, punish, and hear all appeals. Every attempt so far to take the appeals process out of the negotiated hands they are in have failed, so the equation remains unchanged. In fact, the only court case here is the defamation lawsuit, and this information pretty much ends that. To beat the defamation suit, Goodell doesn’t need to prove the allegations, simply that he had a reasonable belief that they were true and that he didn’t intentionally lie in an attempt to hurt Vilma. So, while the info released by the league might not be proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, it certainly represents enough of an indication of wrong doing that one could easily say that Goodell had a reasonable belief that a bounty program existed and that Vilma was a part of it. Currently, that’s all Goodell really needs, as there is no body above him (other than the owners) who have the power to overrule his decision.

  18. How investigative of you!

    This doesn’t add up or make the Saints D and G. Williams look like the ill-willed, femur cracking, monsters we thought they were.

    Just new-age motivation tactics.

  19. Screw Drew Brees…someone just give Florio an explanation so he can’t quit writing this stupid crap!

  20. “There’s no doubt that the Saints maintained an illegal pay-for-performance program”

    Drew Brees needs an explanation – and ‘aints fans need it explained in pictures.. slowly.

    Complain, whine, even boast unapologetic-ally – the rest of us know where to put that asterisk: right next to the 2009 Lombardi Trophy. There’s not a darn thing you can do or say to remove it.

  21. Inevitably, My Vikings will win their first Superbowl. And when they do, I’ll have the security of knowing that their first (and maybe only?) Lombardi Trophy won’t be followed by an asterisk that no other NFL fan will EVER allow me to forget..

    AmIright, Saints Fans?

  22. “the league converted the handwritten notes into a typed document, providing the typed document and not the handwritten notes.”

    This generally means that the evidence is fabricated.

    Secondly, wasn’t this evidence discovered/made public after the suspensions? This whole ordeal smells like a farce to me; Goodell is tarnishing ‘The Shield.’

  23. Well, I’m just happy to hear Florio say there is “no doubt” – as to Saints program. I was beginning to wonder about Mike.


  24. Any way you slice it they are all wrong…coaches knew….the players knew! Hold them accountable.

  25. So at what point do these guys (players) not get the fact that the NFL owns them- unless they want to play in the Terrel Owens Football League.

    Evidence doesn’t have to be “DNA” level evidence. This isnt a court of law although there are enough lawyers on this including FLorio.

    This is an example being set.
    Commissioner is not going to bend. These appeals are for a “show” of due process.

    Breaking the rules is one thing. Getting caught is another. The smart ones take their medicine and lay low.

  26. What are you thinking!! Am I to really believe there was no “bounty system” because the evidence was not properly presented to you, who makes no difference at all to the outcome of this fiasco. Stop throwing your law degree around, it means nothing to most of us. There WAS a bounty system. Williams admitted it!! Oh what now, by golly, gee weez, maybe I didn’t mean to say that??? What disgusts me most is that these enormously overpaid athletes won’t “Man Up” to what they did. I know grade school students with more personal strength and responsibility than these bozos!

  27. This is just getting stranger and stranger. Tell tale sign of a lie getting deeper and deeper.

  28. In a handwritten note, Tiki Barber neatly wrote, ‘I’m flabbergasted at this whole bounty scandal’

  29. The court of common sense says this evidence coupled with confessions, interviews, emails, etc. shows guilt. This is not a court of law.

  30. This whole process has been a sham. The Saints were punished for lying to the King and running a pay for performance program. There is no evidence that they payed to injure players. They should be punished for those infractions, but not the made up stuff to protect the league from lawsuits. As for the guys who are wondering why Sean Payton is not screaming about his suspension, he wants to coach again. If he makes a big stank, he would never be reinstated. This is a sham and if some of you remove your hate for the Saints, you would admit it

  31. I predicted weeks ago that the suspensions would stand because of the power Goodell has under the CBA ( just no way around the absolute authority he was given) but that Vilma would ultimately get paid through legal action in the defamation case. Yesterdays grandstanding aside, I see nothing that would cause me to change my opinion. If this is the most damming evidence Goodell has he might as well tell his attorneys to try to strike some non disclosure settlement to get this over with sooner than later. The league is going to keep taking P.R. hits over this and when it goes to court it won’t make them look any better. This may be enough for him to take action because of league rules but this ain’t nearly enough to win in civil court

  32. The league didn’t produce to the NFLPA a copy of the handwritten notes. Instead, the league converted the handwritten notes into a typed document, providing the typed document and not the handwritten notes.


    So for all we know the NFL created these documents. Gotta love it. LOL….Roger GODdell needs to be removed as commissioner. Worse decision ever for the league when they voted him in.

  33. Just another way to keep the NFL in the front of the sports page all….friggin……year.

  34. You Saints fans have blinders on. Come on be realistic. “head kills”
    “$10,000 for QB” (I doubt Vilma was going to give $10,000 to a guy for a clean qb sack, he wanted blood!

  35. I love the fact that people actually believe the NFL is going out of its way to create some false case against the Aints, why would they do that? Because of the positive light it reflects on the league having their teams pay for injuries to other players? It happened, accept it, accept the punishments and move on.

    What the nfl should be doing is punishing the Aints and their fans for their stupid “who dat” saying.

  36. Gotta love these mini minds who keep saying anyone admitted to the existence of a bounty program, when NO ONE did. Not one person. Then one of the mini minds posts Gregg Williams admitting to a “terrible mistake.” Where in that does it say bounty program? Do you realize the NFL wrote his statement? Some people are so angry the Saints won the Superbowl when their team didn’t, couldn’t, or hasn’t in forever they like any attempt to knock ’em down. Sadly for you, the NFL record books will ALWAYS show the Saints as Superbowl winners. The record will also show no one was actually hurt during this supposed “bounty” program. The inability to think for ourselves, to need to be spoon fed information, and to be guided by irrational beliefs that are subsequently transposed to reality are some of the reasons our country continues to fall behind educationally. To think some of these lemmings have produced offspring that will fall into the same trap is kind boggling. God bless us.

  37. mwindle1973 says:
    Jun 19, 2012 1:27 AM

    The NFL has no burden to produce the evidence to the player(s) or NFLPA at any point.
    Hey none lawyer, read the CBA it says Goodell has all the rights he says he has but it also says he has to show proof of what they are being accused of before the punishment.

  38. Saints fans have said all along, there was a bounty on Favre, and a pay for performance program.

    That does not equal a 3 year long pay for injury program, yet Goodell thinks it does.

    This “evidence” from the appeals does *nothing* to prove any kind of pay for injury system. Vilma had 62 Kill the Heads…. I can guarantee you he did not injure 62 players. Harper got $1000 “bounty” on Brandon Jacobs? Jacobs was injured for one series against the Saints, and it was Darren SHARPER who hit him on that play. Not to mention other “cart offs” listed in the ledger Yahoo mentioned for games where no one was carted off.

    All this evidence does is further back up the likelihood that there was a pay for PERFORMANCE system for three years, then one isolated bounty on Favre.

  39. @veence69 …….Good luck with that 2012 team who’ll win 3 games at the most…The NFL isnt going to give you that SB44 throphy So shut up whining..Know you cant win W/12 Men In The Huddle AND 6 Turnovers An Expect To Win,Thats Why Your Vikings Lost..did you watch the damn game?Saints were the best team in the NFL 2009-10

  40. “I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints,” Williams said. “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again.”

  41. In a court of law OJ Simpson & Casey Anthony both adamantly plead their innocents and both were not found guilty because their defense offered evidence that proved they could be innocent. My point being if this were a court of law just stating you didn’t do it or that the evidence is insufficient would not be enough to convince a jury. You still have to prove innocence is possible, it still doesn’t mean they didn’t do it. Unless of course you ask OJ Simpson & Casey Anthony.

    However this isn’t a court of law & these guys aren’t going to jail. This is the court of the NFL and these guys are getting temporarily suspended. The process is going according to the CBA the players & their union agreed to.

    These players are so concerned with how this whole thing interprets their image that they are not taking into consideration that how they are handling this is also going to affect their image. Like if more evidence come out that proves their guilt and all they do is make excuses instead of proving their innocence will only make them look more guilty and incapable of accepting responsibility. Ginsburg and Co need to prove that the NFL has nothing. They need to prove the evidence is faked, flawed, etc instead of walking out.

  42. If you look at “Kill the Head” in the context from the Williams speech, it means to put a hit on the key guy for the opponent. it can be a WR, RB or QB. Who ever it is for that team.

    The tracking and payment of those hits doesn’t prove they were illegal hits or there was intent to injure, but it does still prove there was a bounty system.

  43. @ratedgap:

    I think the only difference between pay for performance (which was admitted) and a bounty program would be targeting specific players. Intent to injure doesn’t need to play into it. That’s why the “Kill the Head” tracking is so important and Williams speech. It proves they targeted specific players.

  44. This whole bounty thing is beyond ridiculous now. The NFL (Goodell)went overboard with their discipline and now they are trying to cover their you know what to justify it with this worthless evidence. It it what it is folks…..love it or hate it. Oh and by the way let’s be honest with ourselves, bounty or no bounty the Saints were the best team in 2009 and nothing can change that.

  45. The rhetorical fallacies being utilized on these Bounty Gate articles and the posts that follow is amazing. Too many to even count.

  46. YOu know if Goodell had the type of undisputable evidence that people are requiring, he’d be obligated to turn it over to the authorities who would then be obligated to charge the criminals involved. For example if I offer to pay someone to hurt somebody for me, I’ve broken the law…I don’t have to go through with it. Just attempting to is against the law. Similarly the NFL has taken the stance that the existence of such a program is enough for them. THey don’t care if the money was actually payed or if they actually went through with it. THey have stated that over and over. Anyone who doesn’t like it has only one recourse. Stop watching the NFL, stop buying their products.

  47. I keep hearing people say Goodell is a narcissist. He’s the Commish what do you expect? Do you think non-narcissist personalities gravitate towards positions of great power or something. I would guess the overwhelming majority of people involved in the NFL in any way probably have narcissistic personalities. It usually takes a narcissist to want to be the object of people’s attention to that extent. Now there are some guys that just love football and don’t fit the profile. But think about it, when you get a quite, introspective player like Jerry Rice or Hines Ward it’s not the norm. For most players it’s not enough that millions of people are watching you play football. And it’s not enough that they all watch you score a TD either. No they have to do a dance or something as if to say, “look at me, I just scored a TD”, without realizing we are already watching your every move. You have our attention already! No need to carry a Sharpie in your jock!

  48. I just cannot beleive the NFl, after gathering evidence and testamony just screwed it up and over penalized a handful of players. That makes no sense.
    Secondly, I’ve heard the NFLPA cry wolf so many times only to find the person/s were indeed guilty that its almost impossible to believe a Vilma. Of course he is going to say he didn’t do it. It isn’t like they will add to his punishment.

    I do believe they could have just handed out monetary fines and been done with it but then it never stops since these guys have tons of money so it means nothing to them.

    Too bad the only thing that matters is that Mr Vilma is concerned about the hall of fame and his future and not whether he actually did this thing and would man up for it which he’s not going to do.

  49. This is a sham and if some of you remove your hate for the Saints, you would admit it

    Hey, I like the Saints…but get over it. These guys have to man up, take their lumps and move on.

  50. This is not about rules of evidence in a courtroom. This is about an employer/employee relationship whereby in negotiated contract the employee gave up certain rights to challenge a disciplinary measure taken by the employer. Now where I work if you lie to the boss you are fired. Participate in activities that the employer bans, termination. I have no sympathy for Saints players, team or NFLPA. They agreed to the contract!

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