Site Meter

Bounty Killer: In trying to change the league the NFL may be leaving its players and coaches in the dust

Bounties may be fairly common, but Gregg Williams' record is proof that they do not necessarily make defenses better. I wonder how much they will be missed.

So much has been written on the New Orleans Saints and Gregg Williams and their apparent bounty system already. It’s crazy how fast the internet pushes out opinions. Typically the same ones: most writers’ columns are either outraged about the bounty system or outraged about the outrage.  Either you’re appalled that this kind of thing goes on or you can’t believe how naive people are to believe that this kind of thing doesn’t go on.

As you know, I’m always a few days late with my thoughts because I hate being redundant and I also like to think about what I think. In this case, I understand both sides of the issue but I’m stuck on one thing that’s more important to me than how folks feel about bounties:

With every passing day it seems that Goodell is moving ahead with his new version of the NFL without waiting for everyone else to catch up.

As players, coaches, and diehard fans, we are not yet ready for Goodell’s kinder, gentler league. In fact, we don’t even know what it would look like in practice. The thought of players approaching the game with any lesser degree of fury just feels like the creation of a sport we want no parts of. And players and coaches are eager to look for ways to keep the sport closer to its roots. That mentality will take time to change.

Especially when the league is insistent upon portraying it as a “culture change” rather than what it is: a revamping of the game itself. And that’s why a Coach like Gregg Williams can run bounty programs across multiple teams over several years without any eyebrows outside of the organizations in question being raised.

If it’s not clear to you yet, please understand that the NFL has NO CHOICE but to re-position the NFL as a game that is violent but not malicious. A game where players say  ”I want to stop the play not stop a career”  which for most of us loyal football watchers is a distinction without much of a difference. Still, I don’t question the need for the NFL to try to create a stronger boundary there. The lawsuits against the NFL by former players and their families are racking up. There are over a dozen lawsuits in play currently and over 300 players involved. The public hasn’t really gotten a grasp of the fact that all of these lawsuits have been running without any decisions handed down. That means the NFL has no idea what the end result will be and the impact that it all will have on this country’s favorite sport.

In the meantime, Commissioner Goodell is scrambling to make the NFL something that it’s never been before. And again I understand the need for change but what I question is the mad dash speed at which its taking place. I think the league might need some sort of “No player or coach left behind” program.

A while back when I wrote about illegal hits in the NFL I think I used an analogy about lunch at work. So I’m going to stick with that analogy but change it a bit. I want to make an important point about official rules vs. unwritten rules.

[To read the rest of this post, click on the "Read More" tab at the bottom]

Let’s say employees at a company are officially allowed a half hour lunch. But everyone in the company (including the managers who made the rules) knows that people take an hour for lunch because less than that has always proved challenging unless the company provides the food. One day the company becomes awash in accusations that employees are not working the full amount of hours billed to clients and a couple of clients have considered lawsuits. So management sends a memo stating that all employees need to be mindful of the 30 minute lunch policy among other time-related rules.

If you’re an employee at this company you wonder a few things:

1.  Is this rule permanent or just until the attention dies down?

2. How the hell am I going to grab, warm up, and eat my lunch in 30 minutes?

3. Is an hour lunch really hurting company productivity that much?

4. Shouldn’t the rule be changed to be more realistic?



I think we’ve all dealt with official rules vs. unwritten rules. And often unwritten rules change when someone sees a need to enforce the official ones. I imagine NFL players’ and coaches thinking is something like this:

1. Is the league serious about these changes or is this just lip service for the public/judges etc?

2. How do I play such a violent sport without intentionally trying to knock people out?

3. Are bounties/big hits etc really the problem or is it the way the league handles player injuries in general and long term?

4. Are these rules realistic?


By now, players have seen enough fines handed out for hits to know that the league is approaching all this with some degree of seriousness. But at the same time, if everyone knows that bounties are common place what made this case stand out for punishment at this time? The fact that someone was dumb enough to write it down? The fact that two more lawsuits have been filed against the NFL in the past few months? The fact that an “outsider” was involved in funding the bounty pots (a felon, at that)?

Just like a company that wants to switch from a policy of “don’t get caught taking an hour lunch” to “seriously, don’t take an hour lunch” the NFL is trying to transition from saying they care about player safety to actually enforcing the rules that support the claim. And that’s fine, but it feels wrong not to acknowledge that there’s something about the nature of football that makes all these things that are quickly becoming passé natural outgrowths of the game. And some of them, like player attitudes toward concussions, are possibly necessary for players to function within it as it is currently played.

Think about how so many players turncoat once they’re out of the league and have nothing to lose. I was reading Coy Wire’s comments on his time under Gregg Williams in Buffalo and how he now implores the league to do more to crack down on the bounties for the sake of player safety. Obviously, Wire is no longer employed and is free to state opinions -some of which he may have long held and some that he may have recently come upon. But often guys spout one opinion while they’re employed by the league because it’s necessary in order to function and then once they retire and process their pasts their thinking comes a lot closer to modern Goodell’s than Gregg Williams’. That begs the question: are we prepared for a game where everyone on the field and sidelines is thinking like Goodell? That game has got to look drastically different and for me it’s the elephant in the room.

Right now, I don’t think we’re prepared for a wholesale change but we’re already in the midst of it.

The NFL’s many current formalities are a result of its growth in popularity and value. The NFL wasn’t always shining a steel wall to keep out unseemly characters and malicious intent. Thusly, much of the old way of doing things is still being weeded out in favor of a polished product that can be sold as family-friendly to advertisers and plaintiffs alike. It is an aggressive effort to save the league.

But a man cannot save a league alone. He needs the help of those who shape the game on the field. And that help should come as often as possible out of cooperation borne from a broad understanding of what’s at stake and the ultimate goal not just an underlying fear of being made an example out of.  Otherwise you just get a bunch of people digging in their heels and trying to figure out how to do things the old way without getting caught. And I think there’s a lot of secret one hour lunches going on league-wide. And every time someone gets caught we have another scandal that probably didn’t have to be.

I know I’ve veered off from the hot topic of today which is the bounty issue itself…If it makes this post more relevant to you,  I’ll tell you that I think Goodell has every right and reason to unleash full fury on the Saints and Gregg Williams because breaking a rule leaves you subject to consequences even when it’s been traditionally unenforced or half assed enforced. And even when you think the rule is a stupid one in the first place. I personally don’t see bounties as helping the game or as necessary to player motivation so I can’t argue that the NFL shouldn’t take steps to end them other than the fact that it seems like a supremely impractical task to eliminate them completely.








Find a player or team

Posts By Year


Switch to our mobile site