To this point, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees hasn't said too much about the bounty scandal that has two of his more important teammates -- linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith for either a full season (Vilma) or four games (Smith). Short of one ill-timed WMD comparison, of course. While all four suspended players (also including former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita and former defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove) have agreed to fight the suspensions in the absence of any tangible evidence of their involvement, Brees has focused on his own contract situation and the franchise tag currently placed on him. Brees discussed his contract situation when he went on the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday morning (no real updates there), but he opened up for the first time when Patrick asked him how he felt about the NFL's disciplinary process to date.
First, Patrick asked Brees why other people won't step up to exonerate Hargrove, whose alleged involvement in the Saints' bounty system was wrapped up in what could be incorrect evidence. Specifically, the NFL's belief that Hargrove was caught on the sideline during the 2009 NFC Championship game asking for payment for a play. Hargrove has denied that the voice on tape is his; some have suggested that it's teammate Remi Ayodele.
"I'm not sure," Brees said. "And to be honest with you, you can't really see his lips [in the sideline video], and then, there's this voice. Is it Hargrove? Is it Remi Ayodele? There are all these names thrown out there, and it's basically anyone who's in and around that picture. Regardless, when you look at all of the guys -- you look at Hargrove, you look at Jonathan Vilma, Fujita, Will Smith ... I really to this point have not seen any hard evidence, or any truth, that shows there guys were contributing money or accepting money, or what have you, to a 'pay-to-injure' scheme. There was money changing hands to guys with the intent to seriously injure someone or end their career?"
The real problem, as Brees sees it, is that the NFL's proclamations are more about shock-and-awe tactics than the revelation of any true evidence. "I think 'pay-for-performance' has been lumped together with 'pay-to-injure' in this whole thing," Brees said. "I think the facts and evidence -- everything that's been either twisted or fabricated -- it just seems like this entire NFL investigation has been geared toward a predetermined conclusion that they wanted to reach for whatever reason. As opposed to just going out and trying to identify the facts. I think the facts that have been presented thus far don't show any proof that there was a 'pay-to-injure' scheme going on. I'd like to think that as the quarterback of this team, I would have heard about something like that going on."
Patrick then asked Brees about the allegations of filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who has said that based on his involvement with the team, he believes that Brees knows more than he's letting on. "Well, I'm really not sure what he has against me, nor what he's accusing me of," Brees said. "I really don't know Sean Pamphilon -- I've had two encounters with him. I sat down with him and filmed something for Steve Gleason for his own personal footage that he was putting together -- his battle with ALS and for his family. And then, a brief snippet talking about Sean Morey, and all the work he's done with the NFLPA, and the CBA negotiations last year. But I can't sit here and waste my time talking about everything he's accusing me of. I'm not even sure what he's accusing me of."
There seems to be a lot of that going around. The biggest problem about the bounty scandal from the players' perspective is that nobody seems to know what the parameters are for these offenses, nor for the punishments involved. And it's not just Saints players commenting in this fashion. I spoke with Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs on Tuesday for a separate piece, and he said that he's just as eager to see the actual evidence as anybody else. Perhaps because Briggs knows that, based on the whims of the NFL, he or any of his teammates could be next.
"The facts that have been presented thus far do not back up the punishments that have been levied," Brees said. And if that's the case, why aren't the coaches, including the suspended ones, standing up for the players involved? That's where things got really interesting.
"I have pretty good knowledge, and I've been informed, that a lot of those coaches feel like there are further sanctions being held above their heads if they don't co-operate with the investigation," Brees said. "So, even though punishments have already been levied on the coaches, and they've been determined, there are further sanctions possible if they do not co-operate. I believe that if they were to speak out on behalf of the players, maybe that's the fear they have.
"Some are beginning to speak out, but honestly, the facts speak for themselves. Has the NFL presented anything that is concrete, factual evidence that shows that guys were involved in a pay-to-injure scheme? Besides talking about what was said? There's a big difference between tough talk and tough action. We know locker room talk -- we see it on NFL films all the time. Guys yelling and screaming. If you take something out of context, you can surely form it into something that it's not. Unfortunately, that might be what happened here."
Fujita recently said that the forces arrayed against him have engaged in a "spear campaign." Brees stopped short of that, but he certainly wanted to know just what the heck the NFL has behind what it's done.
"The fact of the matter is, we just want to know the truth," Brees told Patrick. "I want to know the truth, you want to know the truth. The American public wants to know the truth. We're all tired of hearing about this -- quit wasting our time. If it's factual, then prove it. Show it. If that is the case, then guys would deserve punishment. If they were involved in a pay-to-injure scheme, where they were paying each other to go out and hurt people, then that's an offense and it deserves to be punished, But if it's not, then let's exonerate these guys. Because right now, their names are being dragged through the mus.
"And their reputations and careers are bring put at risk."
For now, there's no recompense for that. But as the appeal process goes forward, and the process moves from the NFL's offices to various courtrooms, the price to pay for being on the wrong side of this scandal will be severe.
Problem is, we don't know who's on the bad end just yet.