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PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Sean Payton’s season-long suspension for New Orleans’ bounty system begins at the end of the week.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday an appeal by Payton could leave him in charge of the Saints — at least temporarily.
“I said in a letter they have to appeal by April 2, I believe,” Goodell said at the owners meetings. “If he decides to appeal, I probably will allow him to continue and I would expedite the hearing and I would expedite my decision.
“We did meet twice and went through the information. If he has something else for me to consider, I will.”
Otherwise, Payton will be gone until after the Super Bowl for his involvement in the bounty program that ran for three seasons, including the team’s 2009 championship run.
Asked if Payton’s punishment was as much for lying to him as it was for the actual bounties program, Goodell told a packed news conference about a pattern of untruths.
“This is a violation of a very serious rule,” Goodell said. “We have made player health and safety very clear as a priority. During the process of when this first was raised two years ago, there were denials. They were not forthright and that continued through our investigation.
“This is something with zero tolerance and is not acceptable.”
Payton’s agent, Donald Yee, said “no decisions have been made about an appeal” by his client.
“Sean fully supports the league’s player safety goals,” Yee said. “Given this, he probably won’t address the entire league” when he arrives at the owners meetings.
Payton has not addressed the media since the suspension, but has issued two written statements apologizing for the bounty system. He could speak when NFC coaches meet the media Wednesday morning.
Goodell also is waiting for recommendations from the players’ union before punishing any players for participating in the bounty system that targeted opponents for big hits. He has discussed the bounties with NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith.
“We would like to do (the players’ sanctions) as soon as reasonable,” Goodell said. “I expect to talk to him by the end of the week. We shared our confidential reports with him.”
The league’s investigation is continuing, Goodell added.
“We will continue to follow on any information we have,” he said, “and will look for violations. If we get info, we will follow on it.
“Let’s be clear. We discussed it with the clubs today and I think it is fair to say non-contract bonus payments were happening around the league … and that’ll discontinue.”
Goodell added the league approached the Saints before their playoff game with the Lions in January and warned them to make sure the bounties had ceased. He sent Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead counsel, and Jeffrey Miller, its director of security, to speak with owner Tom Benson.
“The point was to make it clear we had new and credible info and he should make it extremely clear with the game the next day there should be no bounty system in place,” Goodell said.
Goodell said the Saints are free to go outside the organization to hire a coach. Payton’s assistant head coach is Joe Vitt, who was given a six-game suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis received eight games. The team was fined $500,000 and lost second-round draft picks this year and next.
Gregg Williams, who as Saints defensive coordinator oversaw the bounty pool, has been suspended indefinitely. He left New Orleans for the same coaching position in St. Louis earlier this year.
Benson continues to back both Loomis and Payton, a person familiar with the situation has told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Saints have made no announcements about Payton’s future.
Bill Parcells said Monday he has not been approached about becoming interim coach of the Saints, but he has spoken to Payton about how to handle the season. The coach who led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories is a mentor to Payton, and hired Payton as an offensive assistant in Dallas in 2003.
Goodell termed “inaccurate” reports that one player turned in the Saints in the bounties investigation.
“You’re assuming it’s a player,” he said. “We have several sources on this. We’re not disclosing who our sources are.”
As Goodell and the NFL emphasize player safety, they will consider several rules changes this week. One that they already made — moving the kickoff up 5 yards to the 35-yard line last year — paid the dividends they sought.
“The kickoff rule had an effect on the game,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee. “There was a 40 percent reduction in concussions on that play.”
Mckay admitted surprise that total kickoff returns dropped 53 percent.
For all plays, concussions were down 12.5 percent, from 218 in 321 games in 2010 to 190 in 320 games last season; there was no Hall of Fame game last year because of the lockout.
Owners will vote this week to further enhance player safety by outlawing horse-collar tackles on passers in the pocket, a proposal made by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The owners also will consider expanding protection of defenseless players to those who are hit by crack-back blocks. The proposal calls for outlawing contact to the head area or being blocked by an opponent headfirst.
“We saw some hits we wanted to make sure that players changed their hit points on,” McKay said.