Say goodbye to the New Orleans Saints' chances of being the home team for Super Bowl XLVII.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's strong and wise ruling regarding the Saints' violations of the bounty rules effectively eliminates them from Super Bowl contention. Sure, they are still good enough to be a playoff team, but it's hard to fathom them being able to overcome their losses in free agency along with the collateral damage from the penalties imposed Wednesday by Goodell.
The surprise was the one-year suspension of coach Sean Payton, and that is most damaging to the Saints' hopes. Payton's mind, play-calling ability and leadership will be impossible to replace.
Payton took a Super Bowl ring away from Peyton Manning with his decision-making. His call for an onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV is a classic example of how a coach can win a game. Plus, his creative game plans and bold gambles will be missed.
I think the Saints will be a nine-win team this season, not a 12-win team.
Think about what's happened to the Saints this offseason. They've lost Carl Nicks at guard and Robert Meachem at wide receiver. Quarterback Drew Brees is unhappy he has a $14.4 million franchise tag instead of a long-term deal. After losing two second-round picks (one in 2012 and '13), the Saints don't have a pick in the first or second round this year.
And Goodell may not be done. He's going to take more time to review what to do with the 22 to 27 players said to be involved in the bounty system. If he's going to go as far as kicking Payton out of the league for a year, you'd have to think he's going to level suspensions against Saints players.
In the league's four-page release, Goodell again mentioned the $10,000 personal bounty on Brett Favre offered by linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vilma is the main target for a suspension, but it's not out of the question for the Saints to release him for salary and health reasons.
In a lot of ways, the severity of the penalties reminds me of what happened at Ohio State. Five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were suspended for five games. More infractions were found and the scandal cost Jim Tressel his job. The Buckeyes felt they were good enough talent-wise to survive. They finished 6-7 in 2011.
As long as Brees can hold things together, the Saints can still win the NFC South or earn a wild-card spot. But he can't do it being unhappy with a one-year franchise tag. The Saints need to take some of the money they are saving by not paying Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt and put those dollars toward making Brees happy. Payton alone makes $7.5 million.
Without Payton, the team needs leadership. Brees could be the Band-Aid to fill in the leadership void in 2011.
In some ways, the Saints got a slight break in losing only a second-round choice in 2013. Based on the first-round penalty placed on the New England Patriots for Spygate, it wouldn't have been a surprise if the league took away a second-rounder this year and a first-rounder next year.
Still, the sanctions will hit the Saints hard on the field this year.
Goodell had no choice but to go above and beyond in making his decision with the Saints. Safety is a big issue in the NFL. The league found bounties placed on Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner. This is a quarterback-driven league and the league has to protect quarterbacks as much as it can.
Because colleges and high schools look to the NFL for leadership, cleaning up such a horrible problem will help the sport at those levels, as well. Many high school coaches have tales of bounties on their players.
This ruling and future enforcements will serve as warnings that such actions won't be tolerated.