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Haystack of NFL evidence has a few possible bounty needles


The 50,000 pages in the bounty file became fewer than 200 that were given to the NFLPA on Friday, which via careful, time-consuming, page-by-page scrutiny by yours truly reveal a handful of documents that suggest the existence of a bounty program in New Orleans.

There’s no doubt that the Saints maintained an illegal pay-for-performance program, which rewarded defensive players for good plays and penalized them for mental errors and penalties. For that violation, the coaches and the team should indeed be punished. As to player discipline, the question is whether and to what extent players offered, paid, or received money for the infliction of injury on opponents.

As Gantt mentioned on Monday afternoon, one document indicates that several persons pledged money to what is described in at least one of the other documents as a “kitty pool” for the 2009 NFC title game against the Vikings, and that several of the contributions were tied to the opposing quarterback, Brett Favre.

The league didn’t produce to the NFLPA a copy of the handwritten notes. Instead, the league converted the handwritten notes into a typed document, providing the typed document and not the handwritten notes.

For the non-lawyers in the crowd, this is very unusual. Disputes routinely involve handwritten notes, which may or may not readily be legible. The standard procedure in such situations is to: (1) figure out who wrote the notes; and (2) question that person as to what the notes say. In 18 years of practicing law, I never encountered or heard of a party to any type of litigation converting handwritten notes to typed notes, producing the typed notes, and not producing the handwritten notes for scrutiny and witness questioning.

In this case, at a bare minimum, the NFL should have produced both -- especially since the NFLPA will now argue that the typed version does not qualify as an acceptable alternative, and that the typed notes should not be considered because they weren’t produced at least three days before the appeal hearing.

With that caveat, the typed translation of the handwritten notes state “Vilma $10,000 QB,” which the NFL presumably interprets as linebacker Jonathan Vilma pledging $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the game. The document similarly indicates that defensive end Charles Grant pledged $10,000 with the “QB” designation, as did non-Saints employee Mike Ornstein. The notes likewise reflect that assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt contributed $5,000 to the “QB out pool,” and that linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Will Smith contributed $2,000 and $5,000, respectively, to the “General Pool.” (Vitt’s lawyer, David Cornwell told PFT on Monday night that Vitt was never accused nor suspected of contributing money to a bounty pool.) Finally, safety Darren Sharper pledged $5,000 for a “Pick 6" and “QB hits.”

Another document (also a typed version of handwritten notes) lists a variety of names and amounts, with no specific designation as to what the amount reflects. The presence of Ornstein on the list, along with $5,000, suggests that it’s a list of pledges for an unknown game. Vilma is down for $2,000, Smith for $1,500, Grant for $1,500, linebacker Scott Shanle for $500, cornerback Leigh Torrence for $500, and “Evans” (presumably linebacker Troy) for $500. The document in a separate column states “Fujita to DL,” with "$500 Sack” and "$500 FF” below that.

Other documents raise questions, including a 2009 email from Ornstein to Gregg Willliams regarding future contributions from Ornstein, and an October 11, 2009 email from former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo to Williams that says, “Here’s Ornstein’s slide, I also added Jets injury to our Monday slide . . . Here’s what it looks like.” (The Saints played the Jets on October 4; October 11 was the Sunday of the Saints’ bye week.)

One item lists the “Kill the Head Totals” for 2010, with Vilma leading the way at 62. It’s unclear what “Kill the Head” means in that context. Another document shows safety Roman Harper being paid $1,000 for a “cart-off” against the Giants, with no indication as to the subject of the “cart-off” or what specifically happened to him.

Finally, the slide containing the photo of “Dog The Bounty Hunter” looks bad on the surface, but it seems to be an exaggeration, with entries like “Must suspected be delivered dead or alive?”

Though most of the documents produced by the NFL to the NFLPA contain no evidence of a bounty program, a few of the pages keep the bounty case alive. But it may not be enough to constitute persuasive and adequate evidence that players paid, offered to pay, or received money for inflicting injuries -- especially without the handwritten notes and in the absence of testimony from the person(s) who created them.