IRVING, Texas -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he "fundamentally disagrees" with former league boss Paul Tagliabue’s decision not to discipline players in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
Speaking Wednesday after an owners meeting in the Dallas area, Goodell said he respected his predecessor’s decision, and believed it backed up the commissioner’s conclusion that the Saints ran a bounty program for three years and covered it up.
But Goodell took issue with Tagliabue vacating the yearlong suspension of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and shorter bans for three other current and former Saints players. In an NFL appeal ruling issued Tuesday, the former commissioner placed much of the blame with the Saints’ coaches and front office.
Like Vilma, Saints coach Sean Payton received a yearlong suspension. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, and assistant Joe Vitt, who is now the interim head coach, was banned for six games. General manager Mickey Loomis got an eight-game suspension.
"My personal view is I hold everyone responsible," Goodell said. "Player health and safety is an important issue in this league. We’re all going to have to contribute to that, whether you’re a commissioner, whether you’re a coach, whether you’re a player, and we all have to be held accountable for it."
The 22-page ruling allowed both sides to claim victory more than nine months after the league first revealed the Saints’ bounty scandal to shocked fans, describing a performance pool operated by Williams that, among other things, rewarded hits that injured opponents.
"Frankly, I think everybody’s a winner to get this issue behind us," Jacksonville owner Shahid Kahn said.
On Wednesday, Vilma asked a federal judge to allow him to move forward with a defamation lawsuit against Goodell in U.S. District Court in Louisiana. Vilma’s lawyers filed a motion to drop his case against the NFL’s disciplinary process now that his suspension has been lifted.
Tagliabue didn’t find the players completely without fault, though. He said Vilma and defensive end Will Smith participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays -- including hard tackles -- while defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, following coaches’ orders, helped to cover up the program when interviewed by NFL investigators in 2010.
Vilma and Smith, suspended four games, have been playing for the Saints while the appeals were pending. Hargrove is not with a team. Tagliabue cleared linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns but on injured reserve, of conduct detrimental to the league.
Tagliabue criticized Saints coaches and the organization by saying they fostered bad behavior and tried to impede the investigation into what the NFL said was a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars in payouts.
Goodell said he disagreed with the assertion that the commissioner owed the players an apology.
"Commissioner Tagliabue said there’s no one here that should feel good about their role in this with respect to the Saints," Goodell said. "I think to have a bounty program where you’re targeting players for injury is completely unacceptable in the NFL, and it’s clear that occurred for three years despite all the denials."
NFL legal counsel Jeff Pash said Tagliabue’s ruling answered the criticism that he would favor the league because he used to run it.