NFL: 4 current and former Saints players suspended in bounty investigation

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Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma speaks about his “Bounty-gate” suspension

UPDATE: NFL Players’ Association releases statement on bounty punishments:

“After seeing the NFL’s decision letters, the NFLPA has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf.”

— DeMaurice Smith, NFL Players Association Executive Director

Four current and former Saints players have been suspended by the NFL as punishment for the Saints pay-for-performance “bounty” scandal.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma will not be able to play for the entire 2012 season. Defensive end Will Smith is suspended without pay for the first four games of the regular season. Linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, is suspended without pay for the first three games of the regular season. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the regular season.

Sports Illustrated reported in March 2012 that Vilma “allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock out then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game,” according to the NFL. The league goes on to say that “During that game Favre endured a number of gruesome hits, and he suffered a nasty ankle injury late in the game.”

The NFL goes on to suggest that the Saints organization knew the extent of Vilma’s involvement, which is why the team has spent their offseason building up their linebackers and signing Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain.

The Saints’ former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL over the program, while head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 season and assistant coach Joe Vitt will sit out for six games during the regular season.