(WTVM) - Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for a year and former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, in the wake of a three year investigation into a bounty program held by the New Orleans Saints defense.
Former Auburn, and now Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was one of the targets of the crush-for-cash program.
"It caught me by surprise," said Newton to Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer last week. "With me knowing some of the guys on the Saints, they're good guys."
According to the league, 22 to 27 members of the New Orleans defense targeted Newton, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
"The bounty thing is completely unprofessional. I'm happy the league has made it known it won't be tolerated," said left tackle Jordan Gross, Newton's Panther teammate. "To think that something like that would happen -- guys trying to hurt someone to make a few extra bucks -- is just appalling. I mean we have a lot on the line, every single one of us. ... You don't want to see anyone taken out a game."
The Saints were called for three penalties on Newton last season. During the first matchup on October 9th in Charlotte, Turk McBride and Shaun Rogers were each penalized for roughing for the passer. Roman Harper was called for a late hit on a Steve Smith touchdown, which led to the two teams squabbling in the endzone.
In the regular season finale in New Orleans in January, Saints rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan was called for a horse-collar tackle while sacking Newton for a 5-yard loss.
"You always have to respect that other person's career, because they're feeding families just like I'm trying to feed my parents" Newton said. "If you take those joints, those ligaments away by taking a cheap shot it's bigger than 'yes we took down their starting quarterback.'"
"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."
Goodell also suspended New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games, for their participation in the alleged cover-up. The Saints will pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit their second and third round draft picks for 2012 and 2013.
In a memo to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell ordered owners to make sure their clubs are not offering bounties now. Each club's principal owner and head coach must certify in writing by March 30 that no pay-for-performance system exists.