Saints overshadow NFL meetings
PALM BEACH, Fla.—In this unpredictable, headline-grabbing offseason, not even hot topics such as overtime or instant replay can push aside the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program.
NFL owners completed their meetings Wednesday by passing several significant rules changes, including expanding the postseason OT rules to the regular season and having all turnovers reviewed by the replay official, just as all scoring plays currently are.
Yet the spotlight all week was on the Saints, who are talking to Bill Parcells about becoming interim coach while Sean Payton is suspended for the 2012 season.
Other NFL coaches offered their take on Commissioner Roger Goodell's hefty punishments for Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely for overseeing the bounty pool that offered payouts for damaging hits to targeted opponents.
Most coaches said they found it important to discuss. And not only with the media, but with their teams.
"The whole league will talk about it," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday. "The commissioner wants the entire league to make sure it's discussed -- to go forward using it as an example, to stress there is no place for that in our league."
Several coaches echoed Coughlin, with the hope they will need to bring it up only once to their players. Clubs will gather for workouts in mid-April.
"It's definitely necessary to mention it," said Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers play the Saints twice a year in the NFC South. "The precedent has been set by the commissioner and they need to understand that and it is not to be broached again. Going forward, we won't have to go over these things again."
Goodell reiterated the league's strong stance against non-contract bonuses such as the bounty program that cost New Orleans a $500,000 fine and two second-round draft choices. Goodell said the league will not allow any cash payments between players, whether the clubs are involved or not.
"It's not permissible and we are going to take that out of the game," he said.
Goodell expects to speak with players' union head DeMaurice Smith before the end of the week and hopes to have the NFLPA's recommendations on punishment for players involved in the bounties by then or soon after. The league will be scheduling additional hearings in the investigation.
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz stressed how easy it is to cross the line from acceptable rewards to something sinister.
Schwartz said past awards he's given out while working for the Tennessee Titans and the Lions -- baseball bats or a boxing glove for big hits -- had league approval, because they didn't have any monetary significance.
"It was part of the game-ball program. It wasn't part of anything else," Schwartz said. "A recognition system has been in effect for football since pee wee ball. We give out game balls. We give out trophies at the end of the season for all different things. A lot of colleges give out stickers on helmets; high schools give out stickers on helmets. There's a big difference between things like that and things like bounties."
Schwartz noted that it's not unheard of for QBs to buy gifts for their linemen, or for running backs to do the same if they have a big season.
"That would all receive very good press," he said. "I think what this shows is how fine some of the lines are and how easy it is to go from something like that that's been around and has been part of football to something that should never be part of football and is not good for our game."
The game will see some changes in the upcoming season.
All games that go into overtime now cannot end on a field goal on the first possession. The opposing team must get one series, and if it also kicks a field goal, the extra period continues. Of course, if it fails to score it loses, and if it gets a touchdown, it wins.
The rule has not been a factor since it was instituted in 2010, with only two playoff games going to OT. One ended on the first play, Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas for a Denver victory over Pittsburgh. The other had several possessions for each team before the Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC title game this season.
The vote on adopting the new overtime rule was 30-2.
Other rules changes: a team will lose a down for illegally kicking a loose ball; too many men on the field becomes a dead ball foul; and a player receiving a crackback block is now considered a defenseless player and the hit will result in a 15-yard penalty.
Not passed were proposals to have the booth official handle video reviews rather than the referee, and outlawing the horse-collar tackle made on quarterbacks in the pocket.
Given the NFL's concern with player safety, the failure to extend the horse-collar rule seemed surprising. But competition committee chairman Rich McKay said the ownership "didn't think this can impact on player safety."
"The rule was developed for the open-field tackle when a defender has the chance to do something else (in making the tackle)," he said. "He's also able to use the runner's momentum against him. We didn't think that applied to the pocket, didn't see the injury risk."
Several bylaw changes were tabled until the league meetings in May, including expanding preseason rosters to 90, designating one player suffering a major injury before Week 2 of the season as eligible to return from injured reserve, and moving the trading deadline back two weeks to after Week 8.
McKay expects them to pass at the next meetings in Atlanta.
"There were good ideas and suggestions, no resistance," he said. "We'll work on the language."