Why The New Orleans Saints Are In So Much Trouble

The New Orleans Saints just can’t seem to do anything right. They have been caught up in a bounty scandal in which the head coach has been suspended for a year, their ex-defensive coordinator is suspended indefinitely, their assistant head coach is suspended six games, their GM is suspended eight games, and the team was fined $500,000, as well as losing next year’s second round draft picks. To go along with all of these suspensions, the Saints’ owner just bought one of the worst basketball teams in the NBA in the New Orleans Hornets, but have yet to sign future first ballot hall of famer Drew Brees. Everyone in the Saints’ organization is hoping all of this is a bad dream or that it is some sick trick for a “Want to get Away?” commercial. As for right now though, most of the Saints’ front office is marching out, and they have been hit with the strictest punishment in the history of the NFL.


The bounty scandal doesn’t just involve the New Orleans Saints organization, but encompasses the entire NFL and the physical nature that is associated the game is played. What Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t want to be associated with the NFL though, is concussions. The commissioner is trying to take blows to the head out of the game. While safety is the primary issue for Goodell, what can’t go unmentioned are the lawsuits being filed by former NFL players that have suffered life-altering injuries while playing in the league against Roger Goodell and the NFL. Talk about the fans all you want, but the NFL is a business and when lawsuits are brought up against a business, that business loses money. The NFL is not going to be complacent with losing money to ex-player benefits to pay for the vicious hits given and taken throughout a player’s NFL career. This is what triggered Goodell to implement rule changes and come down hard with penalties and fines to players who violate these rule changes. Combine this with the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and it turned into a perfect storm to wreak havoc on the Saints organization.


Gregg Williams, the ex-defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, is at the front of the bounty scandal. Williams was, and still is, regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. He always coached a physical, tenacious defense that that mirrored some of the leagues’ best year after year. His legacy has been tarnished though through reports and audio of Williams offering money to players who injure the opposing team’s best players. The most recent bounty issued was in the Saints’ wild card playoff game against the San Francisco 49’ers. Williams was recorded in this speech telling players to take out quarterback Alex Smith. He told players to hit Smith in the chin saying, “Kill the head and the body will die.” What started as an emotional speech to amp the players up quickly turned very vicious. Bounties were also placed on running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, tight end Vernon Davis, and wide receivers Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree.
Amongst other commands Gregg Williams gave to inflict pain on the 49’ers, one of them was to take out the ACL of Crabtree, and hit Williams in the head as much as possible, due to his history of concussions. Although the NFL is a physical game, Williams crossed the line in what he told his players to do. Football players will try to hit their opponent as hard as possible, and if he is hurt afterward, so be it, that’s that game of football. But it is a whole different story when a player goes out with malicious intent to try and inflict an injury upon another player. I played football throughout my high school career under a coach that was adamant on being able to hit and to hit hard. He is now the defensive coordinator at Plano West Senior High School and I asked coach John Bandy on what he thought of the punishment handed out by Goodell to Williams and he said, “[It was] maybe a little harsh, but he had to make an example.” Physical play is accepted and wanted in football, but telling a player to seek out and deliberately injure another player is not football. This is where Williams crossed the line and he deserves to be made an example out of.


I fully understand what Goodell is trying to do with his implementation of rule changes to make the game safer, but he can also cross the line. He can’t necessarily overstep his boundaries though since he’s the commissioner, but the changes he is making to the game are turning into something it is not. With player safety in mind, Goodell has made certain hits illegal in order to protect players. Some I can understand while others just don’t make sense.


What does make sense? What makes sense is the fact that it is now illegal for a player to launch himself directly at another player’s head for a tackle, this, along with helmet-to-helmet contact lead to the most amount of concussions, and the more serious of injuries in the NFL. It’s not just the NFL who discourages launching though; the NHL recently suspended Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes 25 games for launching himself into Martin Hosa of the Chicago Blackhawks in game 3 of their first round playoff series. The NHL has it right here. Hockey, may I remind you, is the sport where fighting is allowed and a ref does not step in to stop the fight until one of the players goes to the ice. Granted, both players receive five minute major penalties, but it just proves that hockey is a physical sport and it also does not accept a player launching himself at another player. Torres is suspended roughly one-third of the length of the NHL season, so to make it equivalent, a player who launches himself at another in the NFL would receive a five game suspension if the same policy were followed as in hockey. It is a steep price to pay, but it gets the message across.


What doesn’t make sense? What doesn’t make sense in the rule changes made by Goodell is the protection of quarterbacks and receivers. Currently, the following infractions warrant a 15 yard penalty and possible fine involving the quarterback: hitting a quarterback after the ball is thrown, hitting him below the knees, touching his helmet (yes, just touching it), and driving the quarterback to the ground (basically, hitting him too hard). I agree that a quarterback should not participate in helmet to helmet contact, nor should any player and I agree that he should not be hit after the ball is thrown, but that rule isn’t as new as the others. The penalty that involves a quarterback being hit too low will forever be infamously named the Tom Brady rule. In 2008, Brady was hit in the knee by a lunging Bernard Pollard of the Kansas City Chiefs in a play where it looked
like Pollard simply rolled up into Brady’s legs. This play tore Brady’s ACL and MCL and caused him to miss the remainder of the season for a play that happened with 7:38 left in the first quarter of the first game of the season. It’s a shame that this had to happen to Brady, but football players are taken out below the knees on every play of the game. Defensive players knife to take out a ball carrier’s legs to make a tackle and offensive players chop defensive players’ legs out from under them to complete a block. A quarterback is still a football player and should get similar treatment to every other position on the football field. If the rules keep changing to “protect” the quarterback then we might as well just make him wear a different color jersey and make it so he can’t be touched at all in order to protect his safety.


Secondly, receivers receive the second most special treatment of players on the field. The rule that gets to me the most is how a defensive player is unable to hit a defenseless receiver. This states that, before a defensive player attempts to tackle the receiver, the receiver must first have caught the ball, put two feet on the ground, and make a football move. This is most seen on plays where a receiver’s route brings him across the middle of the field, the heart of the defense. Personally, I think defensive back is the hardest defensive position in football. You go up against the fastest, most athletic players on the field and there is no one behind you, or often outside of you, to make the play if you slip up. The position is hard enough in that many rules limit the physicality in which defensive players can play receivers. Defensive players can only make contact with receivers within five yards of the scrimmage, and cannot disrupt the route in any way. In fact, after a receiver has passed the five yard mark, unless the defensive back makes a play on the ball (which can also be considered a penalty), he cannot touch the receiver until he is no longer “defenseless”. Let’s face it, the only time a receiver is “defenseless” is when he is in the end zone or on the sidelines. Some of the hits on receivers are questionable as to whether or not they should be called though. In plays going for the ball or on tackles, it seems like offensive players are getting the benefit of the doubt.


“Being a defensive coach,” said Bandy, “some of the hits I have seen players penalized for look like good hits to me. When they’re called judgment calls, everyone can have a different judgment.”


More and more of the judgment calls seem to be going to the offense. Quarterbacks and receivers seem to be getting the benefit of the doubt in 50/50 plays that could be called either way. What is the real reason for protecting quarterbacks and receivers though? It all goes back to the money discussed earlier in this story. Again, the NFL is a business. It is a business in which it tries to protect its best money making assets as every other business would do. In general, most fans of the NFL enjoy high scoring games much more than a defensive battle. High scoring teams put people into seats more than low-scoring defensive match ups. Nothing creates high powered scoring offenses like the connection between a quarterback and his receivers. If either quarterback or receiver went down for a team, it would hurt the offense, which would decrease the amount of points the team would score, and would ultimately decrease the amount of interest in a team. We’ve all seen it. Two games are on. The Ravens are up 7-6 on the Browns with the 4th quarter just starting in a game full of punts and fumbles. Meanwhile, The Patriots and Dolphins are playing and the score is 42-36 with the 4th quarter just starting. Which game are you going to watch? You are going to tune into to the Patriots-Dolphins game, because you are more likely to see a score. It’s simple really. Protected quarterback and receivers=more points and more points=better ratings/ticket sales.


To sum it all up, you can make a point that the NFL has made a lot of its rule changes in order to bring in more money to the sport. Don’t get me wrong though, player safety is still the number one reason and the basis for the start of all of the rule changes. All I’m saying is, if a defensive tackle goes down after being chopped, no rule change is going to be implemented to protect him from a similar play causing a similar injury, but if Tom Brady goes down, a rule will be made to ensure that that does not happen again. Is safety an issue? It definitely is. While football is a very physical and violent sport, changes can be made to make the game more safe without taking away too much of the physicality of the game. Is money an issue? It definitely is. If the NFL didn’t care about money then the lockout wouldn’t have lasted so long last off-season, games wouldn’t be played over in England, and rules would not be changed to protect the players who are responsible for putting points up on the board.


This all comes back to why the penalties on the New Orleans Saints were so harsh. Gregg Williams told his players to deliberately injure players in a time where the commissioner of the sport was cracking down on plays that cause injury. Goodell was waiting to make an example out of someone to strengthen his policy of player safety. In a time where it seems you can sue anyone for anything, Goodell and the NFL do not escape lawsuits. They have to listen to suits being filed against them
for not doing more to protect the players ultimately from themselves. Because of the lawsuits the NFL is losing money, and because no rules were in place against violent hits, star players were going down. The only way to solve these problems for Goodell was to implement stricter rules. The Saints were warned multiple times that they were violating the rules and the Saints shrugged off the allegations as nothing. That is until all of the information surfaced of Williams instructing his players to tears ACL’s and give concussions to players on the opposing team. Goodell brought the hammer down not only on ring leader Gregg Williams, but the entire Saints organization. Head coach Sean Payton is suspended until after this year’s Super Bowl and is not allowed to have any contact with the team until after that takes place. Mickey Loomis, Saints general manager, has been suspended 8 games and is now caught up in an allegation that states that he was able to hear opposing coaches in the visiting locker room from 2002-2004 with a device he used. Joe Vitt, the Saints interim head coach, won’t start coaching until the Saints’ 7th game seeing as he is suspended for the first six games of the Saints’ season. Owner Tom Benson doesn’t seem to know where his head is at either. Drew Brees is not just the face of the New Orleans Saints, but the face of the city of New Orleans. As time continues to pass by without Brees having a new contract, Benson recently bought the struggling NBA franchise New Orleans Hornets. At the press conference announcing he had bought the team, the first question, and rightfully so, was why he hadn’t signed Drew Brees. Benson says that contract talks are going well, but until the ink hits the paper can we really believe him? He hasn’t really employed the most trustworthy of people lately. Although, despite everything going on, you’d think Benson would take a page out of the NFL’s book and protect his star player.


-Colby

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