Discipline for Saints players stemming from the team’s bounty scandal is still high on Roger Goodell’s to-do list, but the NFL commissioner said Tuesday that there is more fact-gathering to be done before finalizing any decisions.
The investigation in advance of the anticipated penalties has dragged on for weeks, while the NFL Players Association asserts that the league doesn’t have enough evidence to punish players.
“I hope to reach those decisions very soon,” Goodell said during an interview for The Rich Eisen Podcast on the league-owned NFL Network. “We have been continuing our work. We have continued to talk to players and to other people that can give us a perspective. Once we have got all the information and we feel that we are in a position to be able to issue the fairest and most thorough types of decisions, we will do that.
“I expect to do that soon because this is a big element to me. This is player-on-player, and what we want to do is make sure that people understand that there needs to be respect for players that play the game and that needs to start with players against players.”
It is unclear how many players will receive discipline, and to what extent. When the NFL announced findings from its investigation in early March, it maintained that between 22 and 27 players were involved.
The number of players who could be disciplined is expected to be significantly fewer, a person with knowledge of the process recently told USA TODAY Sports.
Goodell suspended former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely for his lead role in the bounty program. Williams, who moved on to a similar job this year with the St. Louis Rams, has admitted guilt. Saints coach Sean Payton, meanwhile, began a season-long suspension on April 16, while GM Mickey Loomis and interim coach Joe Vitt will begin suspensions of eight and six games, respectively, in September.
During the NFL owners meetings last month, Goodell said that he wouldn’t finalize player discipline until conferring with the players union. Since then, the sides have had multiple discussions, but the NFLPA has stated that the league hasn’t provided sufficient evidence that warrants suspending players.
Goodell contends otherwise, while also dismissing the argument that player involvement in attempts to injure opponents was merely the result of following directives from Williams.
“I don’t buy that,” Goodell told Eisen. “The evidence is quite clear that the players embraced this. They enthusiastically embraced it. They put the vast majority of the money into the program, and they are actually the ones playing the game. They are on the field, so I don’t think they are absolved from any responsibility because of that.
“I think everyone bears responsibility here. We have held the executives and the coaches to a higher standard, but the players need to recognize, they need to make sure that this is not happening either, and that was the whole point that I made with the Players Association.
“I am not necessarily looking for their recommendation on discipline,” Goodell added of the union. “I am looking for their recommendation on what we do to continue to make our game safer and to get this type of activity out of the game and get back to the point where we have respect for each other and the game itself.”