Bad news for the New Orleans Saints may end up as slightly good news for the Carolina Panthers – two of the Saints’ prominent defenders have been suspended and will be out for the Panthers’ home opener against New Orleans Sept.16 unless they win their appeal.
The NFL announced today that Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire season without pay due to his role in the bounty scandal. Defensive end Will Smith is suspended for four games.
The Panthers’ already powerful offense will thus face a Saints defense missing a couple of its key players. However, the Saints knew something like this was coming (and it certainly could have been worse). They signed a new linebacker, Curtis Lofton, who will likely take Vilma’s spot. And they have enough depth at defensive line that the Panthers’ offensive line still won’t be able to rest easy. Given that all the Saints’ suspensions have now apparently been handed down, I would still consider them as the NFC South’s favorites (assuming they re-sign Drew Brees) until proven otherwise.
Two other players were also suspended, but both are now with different teams: Scott Fujita (Cleveland) for three games and Anthony Hargrove (Green Bay) for eight games.
All of the players can appeal and are expected to, but given that their appeal will be heard by the same man who punished them (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) I doubt there will be much change. There wasn’t for the administrators who previously appealed their own penalties.
The Saints already have lost head coach Sean Payton for the season due to the same scandal, which involved the Saints’ defense ponying up money that would be paid out if certain opposing players were injured during the game. The program was administered by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is suspended indefinitely and who I think shouldn’t ever coach in the NFL again.
Panther quarterback Cam Newton was one of the players targeted by the Saints, although the Saints were unsuccessful in knocking him out of the game in their two 2011 wins over Carolina.
While there were close to 20 more players who actually participated in the bounty program, apparently only these four players will be punished. The NFL release on the matter included this paragraph:
“Commissioner Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints’ non-player employees, that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level, Commissioner Goodell noted.”