Three other players — Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith — in addition to Vilma were notified that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the “bounty” program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011.
“It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.”
Unlock HQ Video HQ video delivered by Akamai The discipline breaks down, per a league release, as follows:
• Linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions.
• Linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games.
• Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games.
• Will Smith of the Saints is suspended without pay for the first four games.
Saints’ receiver Lance Moore tweeted: “I wish I could say what I want to say right now, but I know that all eyes are on us right now. I’ll just say it sucks, but we’ll be fine!
The players are expected to appeal, and will have three days to appeal the punishments.
“In assessing player discipline,” Goodell said, “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”
“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Goodell added. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
On April 16, sources close to the linebacker told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that Vilma was bracing himself for a suspension ranging anywhere from two to eight games.
Vilma was the only Saints player involved in the “bounty” scandal to see his name released to the public after the details emerged of a program in which then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams orchestrated a pay-for-performance system from 2009 through 2011 that rewarded players for cart off and knock-out hits
Williams already has been suspended indefinitely by the league, while Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 season and general manager will miss the first eight games of the season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, suspended six games for his role in the scandal, will serve as the team’s interim head coach in Payton’s absence.
According to a Sports Illustrated report from March, Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock out then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game. During that game Favre endured a number of gruesome hits, and he suffered a nasty ankle injury late in the game.
The Saints spent a portion of their offseason bolstering their linebacking corps, possibly in preparation for Vilma’s punishment. The Saints signed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton away from the Atlanta Falcons in March, and later added former St. Louis Ram Chris Chamberlain.