NFL deducts Saints draft pick, issues $500K fine for maskless celebration

John Sigler
·3 min read

It’s a Sunday during the NFL regular season, which means ESPN’s Adam Schefter is here with his latest Sunday morning splash report. This time he’s reporting that the NFL has deducted a seventh-round draft pick and $500,000 in cash from the New Orleans Saints following a postgame celebration in which Saints players and coaches did not wear masks following their Week 9 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints were one of many teams to share videos of that sort of celebration on social media, but Schefter reports that the NFL is considering New Orleans a repeat offender against its COVID-19 protocols after Saints coach Sean Payton was fined for not covering his face in games early this season. An example Schefter points to in his report is the Las Vegas Raiders’ repeat offenses, which sparked an outbreak of infections that forced game rescheduling.

To be clear: this isn’t Schefter’s opinion, he’s echoing what his league sources are telling him and carrying their water to maintain that relationship for future reporting. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a false equivalence and another instance of the NFL making an example out of the Saints organization to get everyone else in line. It’s bogus for the NFL to punish the Saints for something other teams were doing, and the Saints are rightfully appealing the penalties.

And the loss of a seventh-round draft pick isn’t huge, in the grand scheme of things. The Saints botched this year’s seventh rounder by drafting Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens and failing to convert him to tight end, cutting him loose after some time on the practice squad. Fans like to think these seventh rounders can always turn into the next Marques Colston or Zach Strief, but more often they’re just another Marcus Murphy, Marcel Jones, or Adrian Arrington.

Saints owner Gayle Benson has likely spent more than the $500,000 fine from the league office on enhanced COVID-19 precautions for her team beyond what the NFL has called for, like renting out entire hotels for the team to stay at during road trips and privately chartering larger aircraft so players can social distance in transit. Not to mention the extensive testing offered to media covering the team at their training facility.

These penalties from the league will be forgotten fairly quickly, but it’s more about the principle of the Saints being punished while other teams skate by. The Saints are being hit harder for bad optics than the Tennessee Titans were for an uncontrolled outbreak that threatened the entire season. Add it to the list of grievances Saints fans have suffered over the years, from the Bountygate sham to the 2018 NFC championship game no-call.