Here's an overview of the current state of the NFL's increasingly-feeble "evidence" thus far as it slowly seeps into the public domain.
1) KNOCK-OUTS AND CART-OFFS
From 2009-2011, the three seasons the NFL has claimed the Saints operated a bounty program that rewarded "knock-outs" and "cart-offs," not one opposing player was knocked out or carted off from a hit by a Saints' defender.
In fact, the only player carted off the field during those three seasons was one Reggie Bush who, of course, played for the Saints. (update 1: see comments, update 2: see just below)
As such there is definitively no conclusive proof that such a program, if it indeed existed, was ever implemented on the field of play.
But you knew that already. And you know, it's kind of a big deal in the grand scheme of this quagmire.
[Update 6/2: With the release of its "ledger" evidence, the NFL reported an injury "cart off" of a Giants player in the Saints-Giants game in 2009. For whatever reason, the NFL refused to disclose this player's identity.
Apparently, it is Giants OL Kareem McKenzie who injured his groin on two plays: one late in the 2nd quarter, one early in the 3rd quarter. According to the NFL, presumably, this was a bounty: the targeting of an O Lineman's groin.
Though intimated in Jason Cole's Yahoo! article, there is no mention of a player being paid for McKenzie's injury which doesn't even appear to have directly resulted from a Saints' defender.
It's also important to note that upon the initial release of this "ledger" report on 6/1, the NFL amended its leak/report a few hours later because their initial information was wrong. Specifically, Jason Cole also reported (per a league source) that three $1000 payments were paid to Saints' players after the Saints-Bills game in '09.
When it was shown that the only players hurt in that game were Bills' defenders, the NFL soon amended its report to say those payments were actually made after the Saints-Panthers game in '09. But c'mon guys, JUST TRUST US ON THIS ONE!
With a little cursory research, I found that the Saints recovered three fumbles against the Panthers in week 9 in 2009. Could those fumble recoveries be the source of the three $1000 payouts (if they indeed existed)?
Remember that this ledger is supposed to be evidence of a pay-to-injure program, not a pay-for-performance program. The Saints admitted to the latter, not the former.
Thus far, this evidence leak is following the same pattern of the Hargrove Declaration and the Ornstein Email: wildly mischaracterized in an attempt to prove something the NFL continues to appear incapable of existing as publicly stated.
As new information becomes available on this issue, I will continue to update this.]
2) THE GREGG WILLIAMS ADMISSION/APOLOGY
After publicly admitting culpability to a pay-for-performance program in New Orleans, word leaked this past week that the NFL had altered Williams' confession to better suit the message it was publicly delivering. As Mike Triplett of the Times-Pic recently told us:
"... according to a source close to Williams, the NFL has also misrepresented what Williams said in interviews with the league. According to the source, Williams never admitted a 'bounty program' was in place and that the league 'rephrased his statements to satisfy its needs.' The source also said Williams never identified any players for their involvement in a pay-for-performance or bounty program."A month ago, I--along with a legion of other Saints' fans--pondered whether Williams' quick turn to accept responsibility was a mitigating strategy aimed at saving a career suddenly in peril at the hands of the retributive Goodell. Now more than a month after Williams' statement released and his punishment accepted, it's been noted by a person close to Williams that the documented content of his admission was manufactured by the league.
This is exceptionally noteworthy in light of everything else unfolding, and yet another indication of the league's besmirched veracity.
3) THE HARGROVE DECLARATION
A key piece of the league's supposedly conclusive proof as to the existence of the Saints' bounty program was Anthony Hargrove's signed declaration confessing to the program's existence and his (and other players') participation in it.
Curiously, this declaration was generated by the NFLPA and submitted to the NFL for their case file (or whatever).
Much like the Pamphilon audio, this was a piece of the NFL's "evidence" that the league had no hand in developing which, if nothing else, calls into question the quality of the league's investigation or--at least--their ability to produce any meaningful output of evidence on their own.
Moreover this declaration is dated 4/13/12, well after the NFL punished the Saints (coaches and team) and much, much later than any prior investigation into the matter. To say that this declaration was vital to the investigation and disbursement of sanctions would simply be incorrect because it didn't exist as hard "proof" until a few weeks ago.
Regardless, prior to this week's release of the actual declaration, Mary Jo White----the NFL's "neutral" third party who was compensated by the NFL to review and comment on the totality of evidence--said this, in a transparent publicity stunt, about the Hargrove declaration:
"There hasn't been any denial of the existence of that program. One of the Saints players (current Packers DE Anthony Hargrove) who was disciplined yesterday actually submitted a declaration in which he acknowledged that the program existed, acknowledged his participation and admitted that he lied to the NFL investigators in 2010."This as we now know, is an utter, bald-faced lie. Upon review of the actual declaration, it's become painfully clear that the NFL completely mischaracterized Hargrove's words and fabricated its relevancy to the actual establishment of a bounty program.
In fact, Hargrove's declaration only stated that he answered questions to NFL investigators as instructed by Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt in 2010. More specifically according to Hargrove, they told him in 2010 to "deny the existence of any bounty or bounty program."
No where in the document does Hargrove admit being told to "lie"--a common misconception being perpetuated in media circles--nor does he admit to the existence of a program, nor does he admit to a bounty being placed on Brett Favre in the '09 NFCCG, nor does he admit his participation (or the participation of others) in a bounty program, nor could he have functionally testified to the actuality of a bounty program in future seasons.
The NFL's public presentation of this vis-a-vis the now established truth is troubling, to say the least.
Complicating matters soon after the release of Hargrove's declaration, Joe Vitt refuted instructing Hargrove to deny allegations of a bounty program. Vitt said:
"At no time did I ever tell Anthony Hargrove to lie or deny the existence (of the alleged bounty program) ... He can say whatever he wants to say. It just didn't happen."Even aside from that relevant notation, it's still definitive that what the NFL once publicly claimed was rock-solid proof of a bounty program is, in fact, much less than so. And the declaration proves nothing besides the fact that Hargrove denied its existence.
Peter Ginsberg, Jonanthan Vilma's attorney, explains it:
"[A]s we have seen in the press the last few days that the Commissioner’s office and the Commissioner’s outside counsel have discernibly misrepresented even the information that the Commissioner has gathered. When you put that in the context of the Commissioner’s high-priced outside counsel saying that when we asked for evidence and when we wanted to know what we were answering to — and this is [outside counsel Mary Jo White's] quote ‘a red herring,’ it really puts into perspective the kangaroo court that Jonathan and the others have been subjected to.
I can’t think of any other forum in the United States where this kind of abusive process is permitted. If you want to ask me why it is permitted, you are asking the wrong person. I wasn’t a part of the CBA negotiations. And I don’t think that the CBA as it stands permits this kind of abusive process."This issue is a perfect example of why producing the actual evidence for review, not the NFL's characterization of it in memos, is of utmost importance.
4) THE ORNSTEIN EMAIL
Early in the bounty investigation, the NFL trotted out an email sent from Mike Ornstein pledging a $5000 bounty on Aaron Rodgers in the 2011 Saints' opener at Green Bay. In prison at the time for essentially being a flippant hustler, Ornstein is a shadowy figure looked down upon (probably rightfully so) by league higher-ups for his repeated tendency to engage in shady and illegal activities during his time in the NFL.
Initially, the NFL presented Ornstein's email as being sent directly to Payton for the purpose of pledging money for a bounty on Aaron Rodgers.
Forget for a second that Rodgers took virtually nary a hit in that game, we learned last night the complete contents of Ornstein's email which provide more useful context.
For starters, this email was transmitted directly to Greg Bensel (Saints' team spokesman) and not Payton or Williams as previously suggested. After reading through its contents, Bensel forwarded the email to several coaches on the Saints' staff.
The NFL's initial implication that the communication was solely between Ornstein and Payton is to suggest a complicit, reciprocal modus operandi between the two in a concerted effort to financially incentivize Saints' defenders to knock Rodgers out of the game.
However, upon the revelation of the complete email, we learned that it was a wide-ranging, "rambling" message that touched on a variety of subjects and ended with the postscripted bounty pledge, one that Ornstein insists was a running joke among coaches for years ever since the accusations of the Favre bounty years prior.
Ornstein says this:
"It's a running joke going for three years ... As long as I've worked with people in the NFL, everyone who knows me knows that the only things I've ever done for players is things that help them, not hurt them. First of all, I don't have $5,000 to put down. When I wrote that email, I was in jail. How was I going to pay for it? In stamps? I'm in federal jail in Florence."No matter his credibility, the initial presentation of the Ornstein exhibit and the recent revelation of its true nature once again indicates an effort by the NFL to alter what it considered evidence into something more damning and concrete--when it in fact wasn't--in an effort to better bolster a tenuous stance.
Ginsberg further says this:
"Ornstein’s email is just another example of the speciousness of the quote-unquote evidence that Commissioner Goodell claims to have to support his erroneous accusations against Jonathan and the other players. As more of the evidence is revealed in the media, it is becoming more and more apparent how irresponsible the NFL’s actions have been."And NFLPA counsel Richard Smith adds this:
"The NFL has not provided the players with any information like this. It is unfortunate that they continue to withhold evidence that can show players’ innocence. This email proves what we have feared: what they’ve been selling to the media as evidence doesn’t match up with the truth."What's certain thus far is a concerted effort by the NFL to build a cohesive narrative by mischaracterizing what it desperately hopes to be evidence, but by all accounts isn't really all that damning, all that conclusive, or all that justifiable for the extremity of punishments handed down.
Remember that this is some of the evidence used to ban Sean Payton for 16 games; no NFL coach prior has been suspended for even one game. Yet what appears increasingly-more like flimsy evidence has been employed in Goodell's efforts to make an example of the Saints and discourage other teams from engaging in the practice of bountying.
And perhaps buried in all of this is that Joe Hummel, the NFL's lead investigator in this sprawling clusterfuck, announced his resignation two weeks ago before the player penalties were handed down. Predictably, the NFL got out in front of this announcement and relayed that Hummel was leaving for greener pastures in the insurance business. Riiiiight.
It sounded strange and the timing was downright suboptimal in light of the NFLPA's repeated public demands for the evidence they had yet (and still are yet) to see.
In my estimation, it's eminently possible that Hummel was sharp enough to discern the snowballing miasm on the league's hands; informed enough to realize the evidence's weak totality; and prescient enough to foresee how an unraveling might soon unfold during a protracted battle with the NFLPA.
Precarious as such, he may certainly have proactively moved on to another job before potentially allowing Goodell to hang him out to dry for having provided the NFL with a flimsy foundation of evidence that was then mistakenly used to railroad the Saints.
One thing is for certain: if push comes to shove, Goodell will never admit any wrongdoing. He's much more likely to heap that burden upon one of his lackeys in an effort to save face for the league and the owners who hired him. It's not a stretch to presume that Hummel sensed this possibility and smartly moved himself out of harm's way.
Which makes Hummel, potentially, the next key figure in the NFLPA's deconstruction of the NFL's body of evidence. Assuming he's not restricted by a confidentiality agreement, Hummel could prove extremely valuable in revealing exactly what is what at this point.
Finally it's important to note that after two months, it's been firmly established that there is much more here than initially met the eye. Skepticism vindicated.
While lightweight, media gumby Jeff Duncan was busy last week calling Saints' fans conspiracy-theorizing simpletons, more and more info has come to light that undermines the league's initial position and subverts the justification for its punitive, draconian ways.
While Saints' players, the NFLPA, and Saints' fans continue to demand answers that are slowly coming to the fore, and the media-at-large that spent a month adamantly defending the NFL looks increasingly egg-faced, it's become abundantly clear who the blinded simpletons are at this point in the game.
A final question for you to ponder: if you were an NFL owner, would you have faith in this lumbering buffoon of a commissioner to protect your long-term, financial interests?
The clock ticks.