Saints appeal hearings have concluded; head of NFL Coaches’ Association releases statement

On Thursday afternoon, the NFL concluded the appeal process for New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and general manager Mickey Loomis. Now, those three men will wait to see if their suspensions are maintained or reduced for their parts in facilitating and covering up the league's findings that former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams specifically directed his players to injure opponents with the promise of cash bounties.

In the original ruling, Payton was suspended for a year, Loomis for eight games, and Vitt for six games. The investigation that could lead to the suspensions of as many as 27 current and former Saints players is ongoing.

With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Executive Vice President Jeff Pash in charge of the appeal process, those who have been suspended already shouldn't hold their breath for any clemency. Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely, didn't appeal his punishment.

"Coach Joe Vitt and I met today with Commissioner Goodell, Jeff Pash, [Senior Vice President of the NFL's  law and labor policy] Adolpho Birch, and NFL security for about an hour and a half," NFL Coaches' Association Executive Director David Cornwell said in a statement. "Coach Vitt wanted to meet face to face with the Commissioner to take full responsibility for certain matters while taking the opportunity to make clear that despite inflammatory language and irresponsible conduct, New Orleans Saints' coaches did not coach and Saints' players did not play to injure their opponents. We thought the discussion was productive and informative — so, we achieved our objective."

In a staggering example of bad timing for the Saints, an article written by Yahoo's Mike Silver was published Thursday morning in which it was revealed that Williams told players in a team meeting to go after specific opponents in ways that could debilitate them and hinder their efforts to play. The audio of that meeting, recorded the night before the Saints' divisional-round playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, will not help the Saints' efforts to reduce their suspensions -- Shutdown Corner has learned that the league was not made specifically aware of this particular incident during the investigation that led to the suspensions.

That Williams told his players to point their focus on the heads,  knees, and other body parts of their opponents has turned some of the most old-school former players against the mentality and culture of intentional injury.

"I can't believe that at this time, you would get a coach talking that way," former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin -- one of the more physical skill players of his era -- told the NFL Network on Thursday. "I felt when {the bounty scandal story] broke, that there were a great number of guys who try to do what's right. It's part of the culture -- we all put something in the pot for a big play or a big interception. But to hear about [Williams] talking about going after people's heads when we've learned what's actually being done with those hits.

"Since you were a kid, even before they gave you a helmet, the first thing you are taught is to respect the game and your opponent. You would never take out his knees to where he would never walk again. All this about the head injuries I understand, but this is new ground, so I understand now how horrific it is. These things he's talking about -- taking out an [opponents'] ACL? I almost threw up when I heard it. If [Williams is] out of the league forever, it would be the right thing to do."

Irvin also pointed out that if Williams is let back into the league, it would send a message that the NFL is not serious about the alarming number of former players who have sued the NFL for allegedly failing to fully inform them of concussion dangers. Goodell and his team are no doubt cognizant of that slippery slope, and there is a way in which Williams is actually Goodell's dream come true in his efforts to better regulate player safety -- he now has the "ultimate villain" and can make the ultimate statement. And for their parts in what Williams did, it's very likely that Loomis, Payton and Vitt will each have to  serve their time.

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