Between 22 and 27 Saints defensive players were paid as part of a "bounty program" by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The NFL said the money, paid mostly in a pool by Saints players, was as much as $50,000 during the 2009 playoffs. The NFL said the program violates league rules and the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL said the program paid players $1,500 for a knockout, meaning the opposing player was not able to return, and $1,000 for a cart off, meaning the opposing player was carried off the field.
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The league said it reviewed 18,000 documents and used forensics to certify their authenticity. The league said the investigation began in early 2010 after allegations that the Saints targeted Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Both were injured in consecutive weeks in playoff losses to the Saints.
And, late Friday, Gregg Williams admitted his involvement in the program, saying he made "a terrible mistake."
Williams apologized to Saints owner Tom Benson, the team, and the NFL.
The NFL said head coach Sean Payton knew of the program but did nothing to stop it. And, the league said general manager Mickey Loomis ignored an order by Benson to stop the practice.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will decide discipline in the matter.
Said Goodell, "The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for performance, but for injuring players."
The fallout from the Saints “bounty program” could be substantial.
Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis could face fine or suspension or both. Gregg Williams will likely be suspended. It is not out of the realm of possibility that key personnel could be fired over the severity of the bounty program.
And, it is likely that the Saints will be forced to surrender several draft picks because of the bounty program.
In 2008, the Patriots forfeited a first round pick, and head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role in spygate, the taping of defensive signals by the New York Jets. The Patriots were also fined $250,000.