In addition to a letter sent to all 32 teams portraying his version of events, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to each of the four men he re-issued suspensions for on Tuesday.
The Fujita Letter: This letter proves that the commissioner is concerned primarily with his image and power. Goodell states very clearly in the very first sentence of his letter “I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool”. However, Goodell seems to feel simply knowing about the alleged program and not making his coaches (his bosses) and fellow players stop their alleged actions is reason enough to warrant a one game suspension. If not for the actions of the Burbank Appeals Panel, it would have been three games. So if Goodell has no proof of Fujita taking part in any alleged pay-to-injure program, how can he justify any punishment?
This letter actually helps to undermine evidence that Goodell claims to find credible, namely the Mike Cerullo’s declaration. As was mentioned before, this letter clearly states that league investigators “have not found that [Fujita] directly contributed to the bounty pool”. However, Cerullo’s declaration clearly alleges that Fujita was among a number of players contributing money to the pool. Cerullo’s declaration and Goodell’s letter directly contradict each other. How credible can he really find the contents of the declaration if he clearly believes the exact opposite of what it says?
Goodell also points to Fujita’s apparent admission to running his own reward system for big plays and turnovers. Even if this occurred, Goodell has no authority to discipline Fujita for these actions. They fall under Article 14 of the current CBA in which it clearly states that such actions are under the jurisdiction of the system arbitrator. Just because Goodell decides to call these actions “conduct detrimental” does not take away the arbitrator’s authority. The CBA clearly states who has jurisdiction in such matters and it is not the commissioner.
One final note on this letter. As stated above, the letter starts with Goodell saying “I have not found that you directly contributed to the bounty pool”. This conclusion creates a separate problem for Goodell. In Exhibit 10 of the evidence from the players’ appeals hearing, Fujita is clearly shown as having contributed $2,000 to the general pool prior to the NFC Championship Game in January 2010. With Goodell’s first sentence of this letter, he is declaring part of his own evidence to be false.
The Hargrove Letter: In Goodell’s letter to DE/DT Anthony Hargrove he states that Hargrove is being punished for “falsely denying” the existence of a “program” as well as the alleged $10,000 bounty on then-Vikings QB Brett Favre. Goodell then supports his argument with several discrepancies. The first is the admission by numerous Saints coaches and players to the existence of the “program”. While numerous players and coaches have admitted to a pay-for-performance program, there have only been two claims of a pay-to-injure program. Those two claims came from “two program participants whom [Goodell] find[s] credible,” which leads to the next discrepancy. The two alleged participants being referred to are former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo. Let’s start with the latter.
Aside from Cerullo’s rather significant grudge against the Saints organization which was covered in Part 2 of this series, there are some discrepancies involving his declaration. For months now, the league has been claiming that Jonathan Vilma was witnessed placing $10,000 on a table in the locker room prior to the NFC Championship Game in January 2010. However, this does not match with Cerullo’s statements. According to the statement, Vilma allegedly held up two stacks of money in the locker room prior to the Divisional Game against the Cardinals a week prior to the Vikings game, which he claims to have collected and given to Williams. Cerullo goes on to allege that prior to the Vikings game Vilma made a statement that the offer still stood, but never makes mention of the money being back in Vilma’s possession or presenting it to the team again. So, if the money was not in Vilma’s possession, how could Goodell have witnesses that saw Vilma putting it on a table in the locker room prior to the Vikings game? Goodell and Cerullo’s stories simply don’t match up. Cerullo also claims to have been present for the meeting when Hargrove was supposedly told to lie to investigators about the alleged bounty program. However, according to Hargrove’s declaration the conversation being referred to only involved Williams, Vitt and himself.
As for Williams’ affidavit, anything in it has to be taken as highly suspect. Even if Goodell’s assertion is correct that Williams bears no ill-will toward anyone caught up in the league’s investigation, there is still the issue of Goodell’s control over Williams’ professional future. Williams has made very clear that he intends to get back to coaching and Goodell has made it very clear that if he wants back in he’ll do as the commissioner says. This gives Williams every reason in the world to say whatever he believes will make Goodell happy.
The Smith Letter: The letter to Will Smith actually has very little meat to it. Goodell begins citing Smith’s confirmation that he approved of and contributed to the “program”. The “program” has been repeatedly acknowledged by players and coaches as a pay-for-performance program. Regardless of how Goodell’s classifies these actions, they do not fall under his jurisdiction. Actions of this nature are specifically listed under Article 14 of the CBA as being under the jurisdiction of the system arbitrator. These are also the exact actions the Burbank Appeals Panel told Goodell to clarify that he was not punishing the players for.
Goodell then attempts to bolster his claim of conduct detrimental by referring to the comment “crank up the John Deere tractor and cart the guy off”. This once again comes down to locker room talk. Over the course of the past several months, numerous players have come forward and said that the comments and speeches being reported as part of the league’s case are nothing out of the ordinary in organized sports. Many current and former NFL players have said that they have heard comments and speeches similar to these countless times by numerous coaches over the course of their playing careers. Following the re-issuing of the suspensions yesterday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted the following: “From a non-Saints player who is looking at ‘evidence’ released by league: ‘Laughable. We don’t talk suits’ language, they don’t talk ours.’” Goodell has been a “suit” since 1982. He has not spent time in a locker room as an athlete since 35 years ago while still in high school. Perhaps this is the reason he is having difficulty recognizing hyperbole, rhetoric and bravado when he hears it.
The Vilma Letter: Goodell begins his attempted justification of Jonathan Vilma’s suspension by addressing statements made by Vilma during his meeting with the commissioner. If attempting ring a player’s bell and have him sitting out a few plays is considered intent-to-injure, then Goodell just needs to the shutter the entire league. Otherwise, he’ll have no choice but to penalize every single team in the league. It’s a basic part of the game to wear down your opponent as much as you can to gain an advantage. Sometimes athletes playing hard will result in injures. I am amazed that the man in charge of the NFL knows so little about how the sport is played.
Goodell then moves on to the alleged $10,000 bounty against Brett Favre. Interestingly enough, Goodell never references his previously released Exhibit 10 from the original appeals hearing. The exhibit is rather questionable as shown in Part 1 of this series. Instead he refers to the declarations of Williams and Cerullo.
The first reference comes when Goodell states that he has “credible evidence” that a similar bounty was placed on Kurt Warner the week before, but whether Vilma made multiple bounties of the sort was irrelevant to the discipline at hand. As for the “credible evidence” the commissioner claims to have, there has been absolutely nothing made public at this point even vaguely indicating a bounty on Kurt Warner other than the Cerullo declaration. The circumstances of the alleged Warner bounty described in the declaration directly contradict the series of events surrounding the Favre bounty laid out by Goodell. It is not possible for both men to be telling the truth. If Goodell accepts Cerullo’s version of events as the truth, then there is no way the commissioner’s statements about people witnessing Vilma holding up $10,000 before the Vikings game could not possibly be true since the money was supposedly locked up in Williams’ office. If Goodell insists his statements are the truth, then Cerullo’s version of events is false. So who’s lying, Mr. Commissioner?
Goodell next goes on at length about Williams and Cerullo’s credibility and why the two men would have no reason to lie. He completely ignores the obvious reality of these two men’s motivations. Cerullo is a former Saints employee who was fired after getting caught lying to team officials on multiple occasions. He also blames Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and Williams for his inability to find another job in the NFL, claiming he was black-listed by the three. It is public knowledge that he carries a grudge against the three men as well as the organization as a whole and that he has “pledged revenge” against all of them. He has every reason in the world to lie. As for Williams, he has made it very clear that he will coach again in the NFL. Goodell has made it clear the only way that is going to happen is if Williams “cooperates” with the league during his suspension. This makes it highly questionable that Williams’ first accusation against Vilma comes well after his future was in the hands of the commissioner. For Goodell to claim Williams has no motive to make false charges is laughable. Goodell himself is the motive.
The next paragraph is spent touting the significance that both Williams and Cerullo didn’t know the substance of each other’s statements yet both claimed the amount of the Favre bounty to be $10,000. This is probably one of the most ridiculous claims made by Goodell. Cerullo is the league’s whistleblower in the bounty investigation and likely made the original claim himself. Even if he did not make the original claim, it’s no miracle that both men declared the amount of the alleged Favre bounty was $10,000. The first public claim of Vilma offering $10,000 on Favre was made on March 2, 2012 when the bounty investigation story first broke. Cerullo’s declaration was dated May 22, 2012 and Williams’ declaration is dated September 14, 2012. The two men would have had to be both deaf and blind to not come to the same $10,000 claim.
Goodell next proceeds to talk about how the pre-Vikings meeting then “got out of hand” and that various pledges were made. Cerullo’s declaration states that these pledges included whacks, smacks, cart-offs and knock-outs. He also states that Williams told him to make sure he was keeping up with the pledges. This leads back to Exhibit 10 discussed in Part 1 of this series. The league claims Exhibit 10 is a transcript of a hand-written note containing the pledges for the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings. While the note mentions Pick 6’s, QB hits, general pool contributions and the alleged Favre bounty, there is no mention anywhere of whacks, smacks, cart-offs or knock-outs. This shows that either the declaration, the evidence, or both are false.
Finally the letter claims that a Vikings player informed his coach that a Saints player had informed him of a bounty on Favre. Goodell fails to mention that the ensuing investigation found no corroborating evidence and Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy has become very vocal in recent days denying that he ever made any claim of a bounty and adding that he has not once spoken with Goodell or league investigators. He continues by stating that there is video proof of a Saints player saying “Give me my money” following Vitt mistakenly reporting Favre’s leg was broken. As addressed in Part 1, when those four words are spoken nobody’s mouth can be seen moving. It is not clear who made that comment so to attribute it to a Saints player is nothing more than an assumption on Goodell’s part. Anyone that has ever been to an NFL game knows how many people are on the sidelines at any one time. Players, coaches, team staffers, reporters, production staff, league representatives and security can all be found there at any given time, not to mention the fans seated in the stands mere feet away from where this cameraman would have been standing. There was never any investigation to find out who actually said “Give me my money”. Instead the league chooses to guess and use the assumption that best fits their conclusion. In fact, the only investigative work performed in regard to this video was the voice analysis that Hargrove had performed on it to help clear his name following the commissioner’s first guess.
To read the alternate theory of Bountygate, click here.