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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Big news from the National Football League today. The league slammed the New Orleans Saints with severe sanctions over the team's bounty program. Players got big bonuses for hits that knocked opponents out of games. Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is out indefinitely. The Saints' general manager is suspended for a half-year.
The team will have to pay a half a million dollars in fines, and it will lose two draft picks. NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca joins us now. And Mike, those are pretty harsh punishments. Are they surprising to you?
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: They are harsh. And I think people thought that the hammer would come down on Gregg Williams because he was at the center of this bounty program. He either oversaw or at very least, countenanced it. And that was what was somewhat surprising. Bounty programs on a smaller scale have existed throughout the NFL for years. But to have a coach be in the middle of it was weird and troubling to the league. But I think the most surprising thing is the sanction against Sean Payton, and the sanction for a full year.
One of the reasons that the NFL was so upset with this program, apart from the sportsmanship, apart from legal liability, is that the Saints lied to them. They looked into it in 2010. The Saints said it had stopped. It had not stopped. Commissioner Roger Goodell says, well now, by God, we're going to stop you.
SIEGEL: So will the Saints handle this? Do you think it will actually cost them some wins next year, after all this?
PESCA: You know, it's easy to say - if you're a Saints fan, now you think it's terrible. And Drew Brees tweeted: I need to understand this. Well, there is a large document online, available to everyone, that details the Saints program. I think that though Sean Payton is a mastermind of a coach, his system is already in place. They missed a couple of games with Payton; he was out with a broken leg this year. They did fine under their offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael.
So I think they should be OK, and I think the league didn't want to hurt the Saints from a competition standpoint. That wasn't what the league wanted to do. They tried to balance giving a harsh penalty but still letting the Saints be really, one of the best teams in the NFC.
SIEGEL: And so the message isâ¦
PESCA: The message is to other teams. First of all, there's - it's not just a message but literally, all teams has to - have to now positively affirm that no bounty program is going on - which is a mind-boggling step, when you think about it. They have to go to the point where they have to affirm that one is not taking place.
But also, they're sending a message to teams and also to the public - and potential jurors - because there are many lawsuits now against the NFL for head injuries. And the NFL didn't want a situation where there was willful injuring of players, and they didn't do enough about it. The NFL very much wants to say: As soon as this came to our attention, we acted swiftly and severely.
And that's the message that they want to give.
SIEGEL: Now, Mike, there's actually some non-litigious NFL news today as well. Let's go on to that. The other big story involves quarterback Tim Tebow, who was replaced yesterday in Denver by Peyton Manning. Today, it appears he's headed to New York to become a Jet.
PESCA: Yes. Well, it's not litigious, but it might involve - I don't know, torts or contracts, actually - contracts because this trade might get held up. He is owed a lot of money. And the report is, the Jets were so eager to sign the very high-profile Tebow that they didn't scrutinize his contract. So if the trade does happens - this does happen, the situation is the Jets now have a very high-profile backup quarterback...
PESCA: ...a quarterback who could play a few downs on offense, and perhaps a quarterback who will make their incumbent QB, Mark Sanchez, very nervous and insecure. But perhaps making Mark Sanchez somewhat secure is the fact that he did sign a $40 million extension. So here in New York, everyone is worrying about Mark Sanchez's psyche. You know, I would like to be in a position where perhaps my bosses didn't give me a vote of confidence but on the other hand, they gave me $40 million.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.