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NFL Shake-Ups: 'Bounty' Suspension, Tebow Trade


March Madness is supposed to be all about basketball. But it was the NFL that produced a dizzying day of news yesterday. The NFL came down like a ton of bricks on the New Orleans Saints. The league suspended head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season. That was punishment for the team's bounty system, which paid players for injuring opponents.

Now, while that news was being digested, we learned that quarterback phenom Tim Tebow is leaving Denver and heading for the New York Jets. It was Peyton Manning's arrival at Denver that sent Tebow packing.

And NPR's Mike Pesca is on the line to make sense of all of this for us. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Sense. That's a tall order, but I'll try.

GREENE: Tall order, but you will get it done. Mike, well, let's start with the Saints. I mean, this is just a massive punishment - suspending a coach for a year. Why such a harsh punishment and remind us how this whole bounty system debate got started.

PESCA: Right. And Sean Payton wasn't even the one who was most punished. The defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints and was to be with the Rams, is suspended indefinitely. The league says they'll review it. So he could forever, possibly, be banned from football for his role in what the Saints were doing.

And what that was is players would put money into a pool and the money would be paid out for players who delivered big hits against opponents. Extra bonuses would go up if players - opponents were carted off the field. And if those opponents didn't come back to the game, players would get even more money.

So this is very troubling to the NFL. It's extremely unethical. It's poor sportsmanship. It's literally against the rules. It's against the salary cap. It also opens them up to liability. You know, there are many entities suing the NFL now for head trauma and concussions. And if the NFL were to countenance this sort of system that would look terrible perhaps in the mind of a jury later on.

So, Payton suspended for a year. Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely. Their GM suspended for half a season. Two picks taken away. A half a million dollar fine.


PESCA: The Saints will be hurt on the field, but it's a message to the NFL teams that something like this cannot go on again.

GREENE: A message to teams that some of which have been also having their own bounty system.

PESCA: You know, there were, yeah, smaller and more informal. And having a coach or a member of the coaching staff at the center of it or at least very much involved was really kind of unusual. But it is true. Teams now will have to positively affirm that they do not do anything like a bounty system anymore.

GREENE: Well, let's get to Tim Tebow. I mean, he had a pretty good run last season. He won a dramatic playoff game on his home field, but still not regarded as a top quality NFL quarterback. What do the New York Jets see in him?

PESCA: Yeah, not regarded as top quality only because people have seen him throw. And this is the problem. The man can run. The man is a gutty competitor and quite a nice young fellow by all accounts. But quarterbacks have to throw, and Tebow really isn't that good at it. His great record for a while there at Denver notwithstanding.

I think what the Jets see is the possibility to back up their starter Mark Sanchez. Maybe he will contribute a few plays on offense every once in a while, which is nice. But, of course, I don't know if you noticed this from the 900 interviews we've done about Tim Tebow, but he has kind of a following, right, David?

GREENE: A bit of a following.

PESCA: Yeah, a little bit.

GREENE: He'll attract some fans in New York.

PESCA: So, I would say people have been putting forth that this is just a publicity play. This is just a play to get the Giants off the back pages of the New York tabloids. I would say this. The Jets expect to get something from him to help their football team, but he is one of the few players who could play only a few downs on offense and actually sell some season tickets.

And if all works out, that'll happen. But if it doesn't work out, which has been the case to some extent with the Jets - player personnel moves not working out - then it will be a media circus with no rival, because you've got Rex Ryan, the Jets and the New York media and Tim Tebow all in one cauldron.

GREENE: Tebow audited to New York. Mike, thanks as always.

PESCA: You're welcome.

GREENE: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.