By appealing, Sean Payton was able to stay with the Saints for two weeks to continue setting the team up for his absence. (Getty Images)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ruled Monday that the league would uphold the suspensions of Saints coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis and assistant Joe Vitt for their roles in the team's bounty program.
Payton will be forced to sit out the entire 2012 season, with his suspension kicking in on April 16 -- initially, that date was April 1, prior to Payton's appeal. Loomis' suspension will run for eight regular-season games and Vitt's for six. Both Loomis and Vitt can stay with the team until the end of the preseason.
From the NFL's official release:
The club and the individuals will be expected to cooperate in any further proceedings and to assist in the development and implementation of programs to instruct players and coaches at all levels on principles of player safety, fair play, and sportsmanship.
If they embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way, Commissioner Goodell said he would consider mitigating the financial penalties on the individuals. In the case of the team, the commissioner would consider whether there are factors that would support modifying the forfeiture of the team's 2013 second-round draft choice.
Former Saints and current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did not appeal his indefinite suspension. His status will be reviewed at the end of the year.
Payton, Loomis and Vitt met with Goodell last week to appeal their penalties, though it was Goodell who handed down the initial punishment. It was believed to be a long shot that the NFL's commissioner would reduce the suspensions, with the league attempting to use the Saints' situation to prevent other, similar problems.
The Saints reportedly had some hope, however, that Goodell would show a little mercy. That is, at least, until an audio tape of Williams encouraging Saints defenders to injure members of the San Francisco 49ers surfaced last Thursday, the same morning Payton, Loomis and Vitt traveled to New York to have their appeals heard.
The delayed start of Payton's suspension, however, could work to the Saints' benefit -- insomuch as a team losing its head coach mid-April can be seen as a positive.
By getting the start of his suspension pushed back from April 1 to April 16, Payton will have had an extra two weeks to help the Saints close out free agency, prepare for the 2012 draft and, perhaps most importantly, find an interim head coach to take over control of the team for the 2012 season.
Bill Parcells looks like the frontrunner for those duties. The retired former NFL coach and Hall of Fame candidate has admitted to being in contact with Payton, though he denied discussing the Saints' soon-to-be open position. Vitt would have been one of the leading in-house candidates to fill in for Payton, had he not also been tabbed as guilty by the NFL.
The Saints open their offseason conditioning next Monday, the same day that Payton's suspension begins, so there is limited time to find a replacement head coach if they want one in place by the start of the program. Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune suggests the team could take its time in making a decision, if it feels it doesn't need a coach in place for the conditioning program.
Loomis' most pressing task, aside from the draft, prior to the start of his suspension is getting quarterback Drew Brees locked up with a long-term deal -- the Saints' elite quarterback was hit with the franchise tag prior to free agency, but has yet to sign his tender. Brees has until July 15 to do so before the offer is withdrawn, forcing him to either work out a long-term deal with the team or hold out.
Despite the fallout from the bounty situation, Loomis has been busy in free agency, re-signing Marques Colston and adding Ben Grubbs, Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne, Chris Chamberlain and Curtis Lofton. The Saints do not have a pick in Rounds 1 or 2 of this year's draft, with the first-rounder traded to New England.
Three of those new Saints (Chamberlain, Hawthorne and Lofton) are linebackers, probably serving as an indication that New Orleans expects Jonathan Vilma to be suspended once the NFL reveals its player punishments for the bounty scandal. Vilma and others could receive suspensions or financial penalties of their own in the coming weeks.
In addition to the suspensions, the Saints were fined $500,000 as a franchise and stripped of their 2012 and 2013 second-round picks. As the league's statement indicated, the league could ultimately not take the 2013 pick, or take a selection from a lower round instead. That would be a minor victory for the Saints at the tail end of a miserable chapter in league history. As far as the team getting its coach or GM back earlier than expected, however, there were no victories to be found Monday.