NEW YORK – As a high-profile player in the NFC South, you might expect LeGarrette Blount to have paid close attention to the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal. He has, but not in the way one might think.
While football has reacted with varying degrees of indignation to revelations that the Saints rewarded members of their defense with payments for injuring opponents, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back told Yahoo! Sports this week that New Orleans' bounty tactics did not offend him and that he hoped he had been one of the players targeted.
"I wouldn't be mad about it," Blount said. "It is nice to know someone cares enough about you to put a hit out on you …
"I'm pretty sure there are a lot more teams that have done it but unfortunately they are the ones that got caught. I don't have a problem with it, it is what it is. I don't have a problem because I don't know if they had a bounty out on me or not. I don't know if I'm that big or important enough as a player. Since I've been in the league it hasn't affected me any."
Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season for allowing the bounty program, and assistant coach Joe Vitt (six games) and general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) also face bans. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who departed New Orleans this offseason for the St. Louis Rams, is serving an indefinite suspension for orchestrating the program that offered incentives to players for big hits that either knocked opponents out of games or caused them to be helped from the field.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to hear the Saints' appeals Thursday.
How the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees adapt to being without their coach seems more interesting to some around the NFL than judging the rights or wrongs of the cash-for-hits campaign.
"Guys are playing hard without that kind of system," Atlanta Falcons guard Justin Blalock said. "They choose to do it and that's their thing, I can't let it affect the way I go and play. I have to go and try to win in any way I can and I can't be too worried about what they're doing. In my position if I am doing my job properly they won't have a chance to hurt anyone."
"We will see how it shakes out and what the repercussions will be but it is a hard blow for anyone to lose not just a head coach, but other coaches, a general manager – it is really systemic from the head on down. I'm not sure how they are going to react or where they will find other people – whether they will promote people from within – they have got a lot of things to consider but it is not my team so I'm not going to lose too much sleep over it."
The Saints finished last season 13-3 and topped the NFC South before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs. Payton has been in charge since 2006, coaching the Saints to a Super Bowl XLIV title against the Indianapolis Colts during the '09 season.
A big part of New Orleans' success has been Brees, who passed for a record 5,476 yards last season, but missed out on the league MVP award to Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher insisted that whoever replaces Payton, Brees may need to take his leadership role to a new level for the Saints to continue to be successful.
"It will be tough for them," said Urlacher. "Drew Brees knows that offense inside out, so it is sure going to help having him there as well and he will need to be a part of all that. I think a year's suspension for Coach Payton is tough and it will be hard to overcome that. That is when you need your senior guys most. He is a great head coach, you've seen what he's done. All his assistants know what type of guy he is so they probably molded to him as well."
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"We don't really know how bad it was," said Roethlisberger. "It does shock me a little bit because we all respect each other so much and we all know how hard it is, it really surprises me that guys would intentionally want to hurt somebody."
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