NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gregg Williams, the coach at the center of a scandal involving bounties paid for big hits on opposing players, met with National Football League investigators Monday in advance of a decision about punishments over the practice.
The league made no official comment on Monday’s talks, which came after former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Williams admitted his culpability following the NFL’s announcement of its findings from an intensive investigation.
Reports over the weekend also revealed that Williams ran “pay-for-performance” schemes with players in previous NFL coaching stops in Tennessee, Washington and Buffalo.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has proclaimed player safety as a top concern for the league, could hand down heavy fines, suspensions and forfeiture of draft picks by New Orleans.
Goodell did not attend Monday’s meeting with Williams, who was recently hired as defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, the NFL’s official website nfl.com reported.
The punishment, expected to be announced before a league owners meeting at the end of the month, is expected to be severe, reflecting the NFL’s frustration that warnings it issued to the Saints over suspicions about the practice were ignored.
According to the NFL’s report, team owner Tom Benson told General Manager Mickey Loomis that if a pay-for-performance program was in place he needed to end it, only to see the program continue to operate, the league’s website said.
The NFL has been trying to improve its image on the subject of safety in the face of lawsuits by former players over concussion injuries.
The NFL Players Association has also resisted the league’s interest in adding two games to the regular season schedule for a total of 18, citing concerns about an increase in injuries.
Friday, the NFL said between 22 and 27 Saints defensive players were involved in an illegal “bounty” system operated over a three-year period by Williams that rewarded players for injuring opponents.
A league official also said players would not be absolved of punishment, especially because in New Orleans, the money that went into the “bounty” pool mainly came from the players themselves, nfl.com reported.
One apparent target of the bounty program was then Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.
A passage of the report sent to teams detailed an incident in which Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in January 2010, Sports Illustrated reported.
“Now the truth comes out. That’s good. But that’s football,” Favre told the magazine.
Favre, who was viciously hit several times in the game including once after he had handed the ball off to a running back, said he thought the way he was attacked in the 31-28 overtime loss was over the top, but that he did not harbor any hard feelings.
“In all honesty, there’s a bounty of some kind on you on every play,” Favre said about life in the NFL, where top players are often the targets of aggressive play.
Reporting By Larry Fine; Editing by Peter Rutherford