Shutdown Corner

Gregg Williams now allowed to attend NFL games; Sean Payton still can’t

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Gregg Williams, the NFL's Henry Hill, will get back in the game ... to a point. (Getty Images)

Well, there's one thing we know about the National Football League -- it takes care of its own. It also takes care of those who inform on others for the league's benefit. On Sunday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely for his role in the county scandal, will be allowed to attend NFL games as a fan -- something that current Saints head coach Sean Payton is not allowed to do without league permission.

Williams will attend today's game between the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome. Williams was hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator before the league pulled his ticket in March.

The league's public explanation of this odd dichotomy is that Williams has been barred from employment, and this allows him to do what he wants. The league did not mention that just as the pressure against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to provide concrete evidence against the players suspended in the scandal is rising, Williams signed an affidavit detailing his role in the alleged bounty program. In that affidavit, which was signed in mid-September, Williams also detailed the roles of the players he coached.

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In that affidavit, Williams said that while he took control of an informal pay-for-performance program in 2009, the players -- especially linebacker Jonathan Vilma -- really took hold of the idea later on. Williams asserted that, just as the league had accused, Vilma put a bounty of $10,000 on the table before the 2009 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings, offering that cash to anyone who took Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the game.

Recently, a three-person panel ruled that the suspensions handed down in March against Vilma, linebacker Scott Fujita, end Will Smith, and lineman Anthony Hargrove, were beyond Goodell's powers to install. Goodell can re-suspend the players if "conduct detrimental" is proven, but if the Saints simply erred on the wrong side of salary cap rules by paying their players under the table, that's a subject under separate jurisdiction. The panel did reportedly rule that there was evidence of pay-to-injure during the 2009-2011 timeline, but what evidence that may have been is still unknown.

When you read between the lines, this would appear to be a simple transaction. Williams, whose son Blake coaches the Rams' linebackers, gave the league one of the few pieces of written corroborating evidence in what has been a debacle for Goodell. In return, he'll be able to watch the games he wants to.

Basically, Gregg Williams gets the NFL's version of witness protection. Sean Payton, and the players he's coached, are still on trial.

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