In a letter sent to the NFL Players Association on Wednesday, the NFL said it would neither facilitate the union's investigation into the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, nor delay discipline against players, coaches and management allegedly involved in the pay-for-performance program that took place the past three seasons.
The league announced on March 2 that 22 to 27 Saints -- under the direction of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and with the knowledge of coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis -- participated in a program that paid team members $1,500 for a "knockout" hit and $1,000 for a "cart-off" hit, with payouts doubling or tripling during the postseason.
Union officials contend they didn't learn of the investigation until shortly before the results were announced to the public, at which point they formally asked that the league help arrange interviews with current and former team officials and coaches, and delay any discipline until it could conduct its own investigation.
"We have given your requests careful consideration, and have concluded that there is no basis for delaying the imposition of any discipline in this matter, and particularly not as it may apply to a club or any non-player employee of a club," NFL attorney Jeff Pash wrote in the letter to union general counsel Richard Berthelsen. "Any disciplinary action affecting any player would be imposed only in a manner consistent with our Collective Bargaining Agreement. As you know, the sole authority to investigate and impose discipline in this matter rests with the Commissioner."
Pash also wrote that team officials and coaches, current and former, were free to speak with union investigators, but that the league "will neither compel them to do so, nor direct them to refrain from doing so."
One union source said that the league's unwillingness to compel its employees to make themselves available was, for all practical purposes, a roadblock in the union's investigation.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce punishment for those allegedly involved before the end of the month, and possibly in the next week. Paying players under the table for big plays or hits in games is a violation of league rules and the salary cap.
"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for 'performance,' but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said in a recent statement released by the league. "The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."