Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve heard to some degree about this controversial bounty program run by former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during his time there.
The opinions on this so-called “bounty” program have been numerous and varied, with some people calling it a disgrace, and some current and former players like Damien Woody saying it’s relatively common.
Former Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce told the New York Times that financial incentives for impact plays is nothing new, and that it happens in almost every locker room.
“It’s pretty much standard operating procedure,” said Pryce. “I know dudes who doubled their salary from it. Trust me, it happens in some form in any locker room. It’s like a democracy, the inmates governing themselves.”
Bart Scott, who was teammates with Pryce with the Ravens and the New York Jets, concurred with the notion that players have always been encouraged to hit opposing players hard, but not illegally.
“To a certain extent, the league could investigate every team and find the same exact stuff,” Scott said.
Scott, who may or may not return to the Jets next year, talked about how it’s not uncommon for defensive players to target certain opponents all around the NFL, and it’s not even limited to football.
“It’s no different than when the Detroit Pistons played Michael Jordan and every time he went to the hole, they were physical with him,” Scott said. “No one was literally trying to hurt him.”
Scott said that he’s never intended to hurt anybody, even when he’s trying to hit them hard. He downplayed the use of the word “bounty” and said that if the Saints wanted to hurt people, you’d be able to see that on film.
“You can’t just read the words, you have to know the intent,” Scott said. “Knocking someone out doesn’t mean you’re doing something dirty.”
A deliberate blow to the head, an intentional shot at a player’s knees, for example. Those are the times of plays Scott said were dirty and are going too far. But he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with payments for big plays.
Scott has been accused by offensive players of “cheap” hits, but he claims there’s never been malicious intent. In 2006, against the Saints ironically enough, he knocked Reggie Bush out of a game and Bush protested.
“That wasn’t intentional,” Scott said of that hit. “Bush was the most elusive player in the league. You’re just trying to tackle him, period.”
Pryce and Scott talked about payments for good football plays, like tackling a kick returner inside the 20, or for forcing a fumble.
The disconnect between this controversial “bounty” program and what many former players are talking about it is the organizational institutionalization of it, which Pryce indicated crossed the line.
“It is said, yes, knock his helmet off, get an extra $10,000,” Pryce said. “Or $100,000 if a guy gets carted off the field. That stuff is all said in jest, in a tongue-in-cheek way.”
Pryce emphasized that it was mostly his teammates offering up cash to each other back when he was playing, and that’s something that doesn’t strike him as unusual.
But he also clarified that it’s relatively normal if it were just the players ponying up the cash, but if the Saints were keeping detailed records of it and they were “in on it,” that was very strange to him.
Bottomline, no matter what punishment the NFL hands down on the Saints, their coaches, or Williams, (who’s employed by the St. Louis Rams now) Bart Scott doesn’t think the physicality is going away any time soon.
“Nothing will change, man,” Scott said. “It’s still football. If you hit someone legally, and they can’t play as well, or at all, that’s what you want. That’s what being physical is all about.”
That’s the culture the NFL had cultivated for years, for decades. Expecting it to change soon may be easier said than done.