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League should consider taking Saints’ franchise tag

Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints watch from the sidelines during the second quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Though the release issued by the league office mentions only fines, suspensions, and forfeiture of draft picks as possible discipline for the blatant three-year violation of the league’s bounty rules, the timing of the league’s disclosure of the information invited speculation as to whether Commissioner Roger Goodell is contemplating something a bit more creative.

Something like, say, stripping the Saints of their franchise tag for 2012.

That would make quarterback Drew Brees an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to go to the highest bidder and turning the entire market on its head.

It’s highly unlikely that something so drastic would occur, but with Goodell planning to consult with the NFLPA on possible penalties and with Brees serving as a member of the NFLPA’s Executive Committee, crazier things have happened.

Given that the Patriots lost a first-round pick in 2008 as a result of the Spygate situation, which emerged in September 2007, many assume that the Saints will likewise lose a first-round pick. The only problem is that they don’t have a first-round pick to lose in 2012; they traded it last year to, coincidentally, the Patriots.

Regardless of how it all plays out, it’s an unprecedented violation at a time when the league has become more safety conscious than ever. Thus, the situation may require an unprecedented punishment.

And the most effective way to punish the Saints at this moment would be to remove their ability to keep Brees from leaving, or at a minimum to force the Saints to outbid anyone else in order to keep him.

Either way, it’s unlikely that G.M. Mickey Loomis will try to further minimize Brees’ value at the bargaining table by pointing out that the Saints won the Super Bowl not because of Brees, but because of the bounty system that the defense was using.