Line of Scrimmage: Saints bracing for another damaging storm

In what may inevitably be Peyton Manning's to-be former Indianapolis Colts legend's native town finds itself back in a situation of crisis and chaos.

Now, surely the current quandary of the New Orleans Saints doesn't even remotely compare to the epically calamitous effects that Hurricane Katrina unleashed on the Gulf Coast region back in 2005. Still, the recent uncovering of an elaborate bounty scheme conducted by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on top of increasingly contentious contract negotiations with record- setting quarterback Drew Brees are both staggering blows to a franchise that's had many more moments of revelry than remorse in the post-Katrina period.

The revelation of Williams' "pay for performance" program that reportedly rewarded Saints' defenders various cash bonuses for deliberately injuring opposing players should be neither shocking nor appalling. After all, just about every one of us has done something we've found uncomfortable or even objectionable for a monetary incentive at some point in our lives, whether it be through work or outside peer pressure. And to be honest, it's difficult for the average Joe to view someone making millions from a career choice with well-documented health risks as any sort of sympathetic victim.

Though fans of the Minnesota Vikings may feel otherwise after painfully recalling (pun intended) how Williams' uber-aggressive pupils unmercifully pounded Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship, there are innumerable other examples of bad behavior in every part of society that have a far greater daily impact. Athletes shouldn't be held at a different standard, or receive more attention, than any rogue doctor, lawyer, policeman or local politician.

Of course, the NFL won't be seeing the Saints' actions that way, though its reasons for outrage may be more self-serving than compassionate in nature. With a revised collective bargaining agreement now in place for close to the next decade, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners have made it abundantly clear that the new No. 1 initiative is the institution of an 18- game regular-season schedule, a venture that's now been threatened by the potential aftermath of the "Bountygate" scandal.

A schedule extension won't happen without the players' approval, and the players aren't going to support the league's not-so-hidden agenda if they're unsure if they can physically handle two additional maximum-intensity games. It's the real reason why offseason sessions and in-season padded practices were drastically reduced in the new CBA, why kickoffs were moved up to the 35- yard line this season, and the underlying motive behind the recent increase in emphasis and enforcement on player safety.

With all that in mind, fully expect the Saints' punishment to be way more severe than when Goodell stripped the New England Patriots of a first-round draft choice and fined Bill Belichick $500,000 for an illegal videotaping incident back in 2007. New Orleans could very well be in danger of losing multiple high draft picks and having several confirmed offenders suspended as a result of their transgressions, and it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if head coach Sean Payton is forced to miss a game or two for failing to curtail Williams' operation.

There's been talk that Williams, now the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, could be facing a ban of a half season or more for his role, making the hard- luck Rams an unfortunate casualty of the extensive collateral damage that's come out of this ugly escapade. Other teams could end up indirectly affected as well if former Saints presently on their roster are found to have been active participants.

The bounty disclosure is just the latest episode in what has already been a turbulent first two-plus months of 2012 for the Saints. A turnover-filled playoff loss at San Francisco that prevented the team from hosting the NFC Championship Game as a considerable favorite started the string of misfortune, while its chances of reaching the Super Bowl this coming season may have been heavily harmed by the inability to come to terms on a new contract with Brees as free agency looms.

The Saints were never in any danger of losing Brees, but certainly run the risk of having a number of other essential members jump ship after assigning the exclusive-rights franchise tag to the superstar quarterback over the weekend. The move all but ensures that All-Pro guard Carl Nicks will hit the open market and land a monstrous offer the cap-strapped club probably won't be able to match, and New Orleans could be outbid on two other key contributors to its explosive offense as well in wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem.

To be fair, Brees' reputed desire for a massive contract that although befitting someone of his stature and importance, somewhat contradicts his team-first reputation, has only compounded the problem. But the Saints are never going to win a PR standoff with the most beloved and important player in franchise history, meaning general manager Mickey Loomis will be the one held accountable in the public eye if the offseason player exodus rivals the departure of draft picks likely to come when Goodell eventually renders his verdict on the bounty case.

At least the Saints can look forward to the story blowing over in a few days, when the Colts officially sever ties with their iconic quarterback to make Manning the most celebrated and decorated free agent since Reggie White nearly two decades ago. The ramifications from one enormous organizational blunder from top to bottom are going to be felt far longer, however.


* Though Manning's expected courtship will still draw plenty of interest, what initially looked to be a banner free-agent market for offensive players has been substantially deflated by the transactions of the last few days. The recent franchise designations of Ray Rice and Matt Forte combined with Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch's new contracts has left the running back class particularly barren, with Oakland's Michael Bush now rating as the best available option.

Something tells me the Seahawks are going to regret that four-year deal they just gave to Lynch. Guaranteeing $18 million to a player with a history of commitment issues at a position with a notorious short shelf life seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

* Looks like a pretty good time to be a kicker, at least in the short term. Four have received franchise tender offers after Denver's Matt Prater and Jacksonville's Josh Scobee were tagged on Monday, joining Cincinnati's Mike Nugent and Cleveland's Phil Dawson.

That number could increase to five by the day's end, with Tampa Bay mulling whether to do the same with Connor Barth before Monday's franchise deadline.

* Congratulations to former NFL cornerback and Players Association president Troy Vincent, who will be honored as this year's recipient of the Jefferson Award for outstanding service by an athlete on Tuesday.

Vincent, who currently serves as vice president of the league's Player Engagement Program, and his wife, Tommi, founded the Love Thy Neighbor corporation, a non-profit community development program designed to improve education and employment opportunities for inner-city youth, since 1994 and have awarded nearly $500,000 in scholarships since its inception.

It's an example that not all of today's players are as greedy and out of touch as they're often portrayed.