Saints head coach Sean Payton is serving a full-season suspension, while general manager Mickey Loomis served eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six.
Smith, the Saints’ defensive end, also was critical of Tagliabue’s opinion, saying that while he was pleased his suspension was overturned, he did not understand why he was completely exonerated. He said he thought the testimony of two key NFL witnesses in the probe, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, cleared him, though the NFL disagreed.
According to transcripts of closed hearings obtained by The Associated Press from a person with the role in the case, Williams and Cerullo both testified that Smith contributed money to a pay-for-performance pool that among other things rewarded hard legal hits, including those that knocked players out of games. However, when asked directly if Smith every put a bounty on anyone or even suggested that the Saints should try to injure any opposing player, both former coaches answered, ‘‘No.’’
‘‘People actually think that we actually went out and did this, and we didn’t do this,’’ Smith said of the bounty program, adding that he had not decided whether to pursue any defamation claims of his own. ‘‘The only thing that was going on was a pay-for-performance that pretty much every other team in the league has and have had for years. That was it, I never participate in a bounty or put money down to injure another player or encourage other guys to injure other players.’’
Vilma said he was not bothered by the wording of Tagliabue’s ruling, saying he fully expected the former commissioner, who works with a firm that represents the NFL, to be careful not to expose his client to liability.
Brees had a dimmer view.
‘‘I hate to say this because it sounds so conspiracy theorist, but it seems like the last, at least, month or so, especially once Tagliabue stepped in, it’s very staged, as in, ‘OK, how do we get ourselves out of this mess, let the players off,’’ Brees said. ‘‘Thank God we have a union that can represent the players and fight the process and represent our guys. Unfortunately, the coaches don’t have that. The coaches are told the way it’s going to be, and they have no way to fight back unfortunately, because I'd say certainly Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn’t deserve what they got.