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Goodell was right to send a message with Saints' punishment

Say this much for Roger Goodell: when he sends a message, he sends a message. In fact, the last guy to send a message like this was probably Vito Corleone.

The NFL commissioner didn't fool around when disciplining the New Orleans Saints for their infamous "bounty" program. He whacked them good.

Saints coach Sean Payton? Suspended without pay for the 2012 season.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis? Suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games.

And you know you're getting the book thrown at you when an assistant coach (Joe Vitt) gets suspended six games without pay and fined $100,000.

Not only that, the team was fined $500,000 and has to forfeit two second-round draft picks, too.

As for Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator credited with master-minding the bounties, he might never coach again in the NFL.

Now the St. Louis Rams' D-coordinator, he's been suspended indefinitely — which means the next time you see him wearing a headset, he might be cold-calling for GEICO or Mutual of Omaha out of a cubicle somewhere.

Good for Goodell. What the Saints did in targeting players to hurt for cash rewards was despicable.

According to the league, 22 Saints defensive players were paid to maim opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, and knock them out of games.

We've read all about the bounties for weeks now. So-called "knockouts" were worth $1,500. "Cart-offs" were worth $1,000. And the bonuses increased when the playoffs rolled around.

Talk about a Wild West mentality. It's a wonder the Saints didn't post the bounties on the nearest goal post with a Bowie knife.

Payton knew about the bounties. Loomis knew about them, too. And that made Goodell's job even easier, as far as determining how hard to whack the team.

"A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious," the commissioner said in a statement Wednesday.

Oh, you bet.

If the GM and coach are wink-winking at a bounty program, if the defensive coordinator is talking about "hits" on opposing players like he's a member of the Gambino Family, if players like Jonathan Vilma are reportedly plunking down $10,000 in cash before the 2009 NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings and offering it to any teammate who knocks out Favre, Goodell had no choice but to come down hard on the Saints.

There's also this: the league increasingly professes to be concerned about player safety. (Translation: we're about to get hit with a ton of lawsuits from ex-players alleging we didn't do enough to prevent concussions and traumatic brain injury.)

With that in mind, there's no way Goodell could just slap the Saints on the wrist for a team-wide conspiracy to injure and knock out players that went on for years.

Which is why Goodell summed it up nicely in his statement: "When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game."

Again, good for Goodell.

He didn't try to slick-talk this one, didn't try to minimize the severity of what the Saints were up to.

When the scandal first broke, we kept hearing New Orleans wasn't the only team offering cash to put opposing players out of games.

But the league said Wednesday there was no evidence that other clubs were conducting bounty programs.

In any event, if other teams were doing it, they better not be anymore. Because now the NFL wants all the other teams in the league to swear — cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die — that they didn't have bounty systems, too.

Sure, it's a little late for that. The toothpaste is already out of the tube. But anything that prevents teams from instituting bounty systems in the future is a good thing — even an after-the-fact crackdown.

Already, though, we're hearing from some Saints players that Goodell came down way too hard on the team.

"It seems as if they are trying to destroy our season," Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said on Sirius NFL Radio. "They are trying to take away our leaders. ... But it's not going to happen. We are New Orleans. We will be strong, we will get through this, we will fight through this and we will win."

Whatever. Pardon me if I don't get all weepy for Greer and his teammates.

Goodell's punishment was fair. He did what he had to do for the integrity of the game. That's his job.

That's why they pay him the big bucks.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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