The NFL just handed out its discipline for the recent bounty problems uncovered with the New Orleans Saints. You can see the full story here, but it's pretty hefty - a full year suspension for head coach Sean Payton, some monetary damages (not too much for an NFL franchise), two second round draft picks, eight games for GM Mickey Loomis, and an indefinite suspension for former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt has also been suspended for six games.
All I can say is WOW. Those are quite the blows, and I think probably well-deserved. Like it or not, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis are the guys who run the show, and they're ultimately responsible for not doing anything about this. Personally, this tarnishes their Super Bowl and as a guy who has been a fan of the Saints recently, I'm disappointed.
This also raises a big question for the franchise: if you're Drew Brees, what do you do now? You've been franchised now by an organization in fairly dire straits, and you were pretty pissed about it before - do you even want a long term contract with the team at this point? No idea what's going to happen with the coaching situation, you're missing some draft picks, and who knows what kind of further punishments are coming down for the players on defense. Brutal situation. What do you all think?
Personally, I think Brees has to play out that contract, but no way do I sign a long-term contract with this franchise right now. I'd take the $16 million tag (nothing he can really do about it anyway) and play my heart out and hit the market next year. If at that point, the Saints seem okay and they're willing to pay up, maybe I re-sign, but I'm definitely lacking confidence in the current situation. I imagine that's what Brees is thinking right now.
Another question the Saints have to consider is what you do with your coaching staff and front office. You've got no head coach (and he also functions as offensive coordinator) for the season, and your presumptive backup (Vitt) is gone for the first six. Who do you turn to at this point? Your new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo? He is just coming off a head coaching stint with the Rams, so he has some experience. I imagine that is probably the route they will go for the first six games - Spag handles the head coach and coordinator duties. After six games you make a decision on sticking with him or handing the reigns to Joe Vitt - though I'm sure they'd stick with Spag for the following reason: you see how the team plays under Spag and how he handles this entire situation. If he does a good job, you now have an option to seriously consider. Do you keep the tarnished Sean Payton, or go forward with Spagnuolo as your head coach? UPDATE: Pat Yaskinkas of ESPN.com just posted a piece about possible head coaching options here, which specifically mentions Spag. He also includes Pete Carmichael as a likely option. Carmichael apparently had all but assumed full responsibilities as offensive coordinator/playcaller, which has been Payton's purview until he broke his leg. Carmichael has been with the team longer than Spag, obviously, and Yaskinkas mentions how important the relationships he already has can be. I really think it is a toss up at this point after reading that article - we'll see what Saints owner Tom Benson decides to do.
I'm also unsure what a suspension for the GM means. It appears he'll be able to do this year's draft, but what damage is lacking your GM for the first eight games going to do? Is he still active with signing players during training camp? I'm sure these answers are going to be answered by someone smarter than I am very soon, but if you have any thoughts or insights, please share.
It'd be easy to think the Saints are the only ones being punished here - certainly they bear the brunt. But Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams are also about to pay a price, because they hired Gregg Williams as their new defensive coordinator. In hindsight, not a great move. Still, as soon as this game out, I imagine they were scouting for new coordinator candidates (let's be honest, it's unlikely Williams will ever coach in the NFL again), and there's always the possibility Jeff Fisher will just do the job himself as far as play-calling himself.
One last thought - pretty soon people are going to start comparing this punishment to that NFL's discipline for Spygate. Now, this is obviously far more severe. It's going to vary between each person as to which issue they thought was a more serious breach of the rules - bounties, or cheating? Certainly there are some issues regarding evidence in terms of Spygate and the destruction of the tapes (I think we all remember how sketchy that was), but I think this punishment definitely sets out that while the NFL doesn't want people cheating, it is flat out more concerned about player safety (or at least the appearance of it, because we're all still waiting for them to fork out a little more cash for post-career care). All I can say regarding the Steelers is this - James Harrison, you're on notice. The Commish appears to be at the end of his rope.