The NFL has dropped the hammer on the New Orleans Saints in the wake of a three-year investigation of the team's "pay-for-performance" bounty system.

The league has suspended Saints Coach Sean Payton without pay for the entire 2012 season; Saints GM Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the upcoming season; and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- now with the St. Louis Rams -- indefinitely.

The Saints, who have been fined $500,000, also must forfeit their second-round draft in both the 2012 and 2013 drafts.

Joe Vitt, New Orleans' linebackers coach and assistant head coach, was a potential interim replacement for Payton, but he was also suspended for six games for his part in the scandal and subsequent coverup.

It is a massive penalty, one that is likely to devastate one of the league's most popular franchises.

The Saints were found to be paying players -- from a cash pool made up of contributions of players, Williams and others -- for injuring opponents. The rewards included $1,000 for causing an opponent to be carted off the field, and $1,500 for a knockout.

One of the reasons the penalties are so severe is that the league had instructed the Saints to dismantle the program, and they did not.