Washington phase of New Orleans Saints bounty hearings ends Friday with Gregg Williams' testimony
Washington -- The first phase of the New Orleans Saints bounty hearings wrapped up Friday with New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith receiving the wish they desired for months.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a major witness and informant in the NFL's investigation into the Saints, testified and faced cross examination during Friday's hearings with Vilma and Smith in the room with Williams to hear him talk about their role in the alleged Saints bounty program.
Vilma and Smith arrived to the downtown office building around 6:30 a.m. central just hours after the two Saints defenders played against the Falcons in Atlanta on Thursday night.
"We all know why we're here," Vilma said as he walked into the building. Smith didn't say anything as he walked in with Vilma.
It's unclear what time Williams arrived as he was never seen entering or exiting the office building Friday. But Williams began testifying in front of Vilma, Smith, the NFL's legal team, the players' legal teams and lead appeals officer and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue before 9 a.m. central.
Smith left the office building around mid-afternoon, while Vilma left shortly after Smith. Sources say Vilma will testify in another phase of the bounty hearings in New Orleans on Tuesday and Saints interim coach Joe Vitt will testify Monday in New Orleans. It's thought that Tagliabue will make a ruling in the appeals shortly after the hearings end on Tuesday.
Vilma said it felt good to be in the same room with Williams. Vilma, who is fighting a season-long suspension handed down by the NFL, said it was the first time he had seen Williams since Williams left the Saints to become defensive coordinator with the Rams in late January.
When asked if he thought Williams' testimony would be helpful in proving their case, Vilma said, "We said that last time and look how that turned out."
Smith said he didn't have any interaction with Williams but said it wasn't awkward being in a room with one of the NFL's primary witnesses.
"We know what we did and we know what we didn't do," Smith said.
Jonathan Vilma's turn to testify at the bounty appeals hearing will be next week in New Orleans.
Smith didn't give any details as to what was said during Williams' testimony but said he was happy he could be in Washington to hear Williams. Smith, who is appealing a four-game suspension, did say the mood in the hearing was peaceful.
"We got to hear what Gregg (Williams) had to say," Smith said.
Here's a sample of some of the details Williams admitted to in a signed affidavit in mid-September:
- Williams personally designed how the pool would work initially, held the funds, awarded payouts and assessed dues. Participation wasn't mandatory. He didn't remember in 2009 if the pool was initially funded by players who voluntarily contributed or if all players did so. In 2010 and 2011, those defensive players who elected to participate made payments to the "kitty" at the beginning of the season. The 2009 kitty was initially funded by Vilma and Smith. Williams met with both players to explain the pool and both players endorsed the program.
- At some point during the three years of the program, Williams said a category was added known as "cart-offs/knock-outs." Williams couldn't remember the difference, but they had to do with big hits forcing a player to leave the game.
- Williams was aware the pay-for-performance pool violated league rules and it was wrong that he administered it.
- Williams said Vilma pledged $10,000 for any player who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game. After Vilma made the pledge, a number of others present pledged additional amounts to the pool.
- Before Super Bowl XLIV, General Manager Mickey Loomis told Williams a Vikings player told the NFL that the player heard about a bounty placed on Favre. When Williams was interviewed by the league about the claim, he said he purposely misled the NFL denying a bounty was placed on Favre. Williams said he was also aware a Saints official told Anthony Hargrove should deny any existence of a pool.
Neither Scott Fujita (one-game suspension), nor Hargrove (seven games) attended the hearings, but a source said both players were able to listen in to all of the proceedings via teleconference.
No one from any of the legal teams representing the NFL or the players commented Friday about the proceedings, which is the same thing that happened Thursday after former Saints defensive aide Mike Cerullo testified. All sides, including the players, have been tight-lipped about many details of the proceedings as Tagliabue mandated basically a gag order on what occurs behind closed doors.
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