It’s been another typical week for the New Orleans Saints in a season that has been anything but normal. Tuesday former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated the bounty penalties imposed Saints players linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith along with former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove. No suspensions will be served but the decision did not make tensions between the team and the league any better.
“If someone would just come out from the league office and admit that they could have handled this situation better, it would go such a long way with both players and fans,” Brees told reporters. “I think people have really come around to realize what this thing was all about from the beginning. Right now, the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players and, I’d say, with a lot of the fans because of the way that this has taken place."
There is no shortage of drama post Tagliabue’s decision as transcripts from Tagliabue’s testimony have begun to be leaked and stories written about them. Not surprisingly there are not very pro Saints as it seems the league is doing all it can to justify the bounty investigation and punishments first handed down.
Wednesday, leaked transcripts obtained by the Associated Press reportedly show former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified in the Tagliabue investigation that he tried to stop the bounty program.
Thursday evening ESPN dot com writer John Barr, who won’t be getting Christmas cards from Saint fans for his wire tapping story on Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, posted a story about Jeff Cerullo. The former Saints assistant was a key witness for the league and was the “whistle blower” in the investigation. Read Barr’s story on how Cerullo feels he’s been vilified here: http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/8744952/mike-cerullo-former-new-orleans-saints-assistant-sends-letter-former-nfl-commissioner-paul-tagliabue
The first question following practice on Thursday assistant head coach Joe Vitt was asked wasn’t about Sunday’s upcoming game. It was about the recent stories and leaked testimony, particularly about Gregg Williams saying he tried to stop the Saints bounty program.
“Yesterday I was asked that question and I said specifically I wasn’t going to answer a question yesterday, because we knew that the scuds were going to come. We knew that there was going to be a leakage of information and it was like clockwork, like 60 Minutes, the thing ticking,” Vitt began. “But we knew that this was going to come out and here it comes. It’s here and it’s a shame. Number one, in my testimony, I was never asked that question, whether or not I wanted to keep a bounty program going. I was never asked that question. I was told that accusation was made and I volunteered at the time in front of commissioner Tagliabue to take a lie detector test that afternoon to deny that allegation.
Vitt continued, “So let’s stop. That’s the scorecard right now. Our players have already been cleared by three bodies of work; Judge Berrigan, a panel of three judges and Commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue. Myself, Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) did not have that right. Now until the day I die and I think I’ll be able to find six pallbearers, I’m going to defend the intent of our football players. I am going to defend the integrity of this organization and the high moral standards that our Owner (Tom Benson) hold us all to and that’s just the truth. With that I think that I’ve covered all bases.”
Oh by the way, the Saints host the (6-7) Buccaneers on Sunday at noon and trying to focus on that is what Vitt would like to do since it’s the only thing he can control.
“What I and other coaches can do is do what we love to do and try to find a way to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s what we can do,” said Vitt. “I’m responding to an allegation. And tonight there’s probably going to be another scud that’s going to be launched over the bow and tomorrow our response will be quick and exactly like we’re doing today. These can go back and forth or we can go back to football or we can keep talking about this every day. I’ve already served my time. Mickey’s already served his time and to be quite frank with you I don’t know what door to knock on on Park Avenue to get my reputation back. But again, I’m going to defend our players, I’m going to defend this organization and I’m going to defend our Ownership.”
Many fans have expressed through social media and sports talk shows that Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Vitt should pursue civil action against the league.
“I’m not going to talk about that now. I really do want to talk about football,” Vitt said. “I think my comments are as clear and as black and white as they can be. Like I said, we’ll hunker down and wait for the scud to come in tonight, something to discredit me.”
It was the second day in a row that six total players missed practice. Safety Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), tackle Zach Strief (ankle), fullback Jed Collins (toe), running back Chris Ivory (hamstring), tackle Charles Brown and cornerback Corey White (knee) all did not go on Wednesday and Thursday.
NFL owners are meeting this week and back on Wednesday NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that in that day’s meeting the possibility of playoff expansion was discussed.
"Of course, something that we discussed in the past is expanded playoffs. That is something that we teed up (at the meeting Wednesday)," Goodell said. "We will probably be looking at it with the committee over the next several months. Right now, we are at 12 teams, obviously. We will look at probably 14 or 16. The committee will be looking at that."
The current format has eight division champions and four wild card teams, two in each conference.