Washington Football

Column: Tagliabue shows Goodell how it's done

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Column: Tagliabue shows Goodell how it's done

``Round up the usual suspects.''

Funny how that line near the end of ``Casablanca'' provides a fitting epitaph for Bountygate, too. Like Capt. Renault in the film classic, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was presented with a crime and empowered as both judge and jury. He considered the evidence, weighed the injury to the parties involved, then concluded - conveniently - that no further action was required. Justice had already been served.

Tagliabue's reasoning was torturous, but the result was fair. He decided the two Saints players who took part in cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011, and a third who assisted in trying to cover it up, had suffered enough, commuting the suspensions to time served and erased their fines. And he cleared Scott Fujita, who'd maintained his innocence all along.

Just as important, Tagliabue affirmed current Commissioner Roger Goodell's findings of fact in the case, even if he didn't agree with the ham-handed way the punishments were doled out. Tagliabue knew his successor didn't need any more challenges to his reputation or authority at the moment, not with back-to-back tragedies casting a shadow over the league's last two weekends and concussion-related lawsuits piling up outside the door to his office. Most important, Tagliabue knew the people at the top of the Saints organization who were responsible for the bounty scheme - general manager Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Peyton, Williams and several others; in this case, ``the usual suspects'' - were already serving time, banished from the league for varying lengths of time and slapped with heavy fines.

Goodell isn't completely in the clear, either. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whom Goodell hit the hardest, said Tuesday he would press ahead his defamation lawsuit against the commissioner, which only seems fair. I wrote back in May that Goodell ``better have the goods,'' and that ``somewhere in the 50,000 pages of documents related to the Saints bounty program better be some compelling evidence that it was much more organized and way more vicious than anything the NFL had ever seen. Otherwise, the punishment he's doled out already has exceeded the crime.''

What Williams did wasn't all that different from what coaches have been doing since football was invented. He just kept better records, bragged about it too often and loudly, and despite repeated warnings, his bosses in the locker room and the front office didn't see fit to shut it down. About the fourth or fifth time Williams handed out cash for big hits, or launched into one of his ``kill the head'' pep talks, it was only natural to assume that was the company policy. That the players ``just sat and nodded at Williams instead of calling a crisis intervention hotline,'' as one writer put it, ``was not grounds to take away their livelihood for long periods of time.''

Tagliabue agreed. But with Goodell facing an increasingly rebellious players' union in just the second year of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, his predecessor saw no reason to limit the commissioner's discretionary powers.

``To be clear: this case should not be considered a precedent for whether similar behavior in the future merits player suspensions or fines,'' his ruling said.

Tagliabue also concurred that the Saints organization deserved to be punished severely, and had been. Not just for allowing Williams to rant on and run and his little ``performance'' pool unchecked for several seasons, but for trying to impede the league's investigation at every turn along the way. Unlike his players, Williams' bosses quit fighting and fessed up. Bet they wish now, like the players, they had a union, too.

The surprise here isn't Tagliabue's decision. It was clear months ago, despite selective excerpts from the league's voluminous files, that Goodell didn't have the goods to take the unilateral actions he did. And that was only reinforced by the sham of an appeals process that wound its way back to his desk. The real surprise, ultimately, is that Tagliabue got to decide the case at all.

Goodell agreed to an appeal of the appeal with considerable reluctance, likely thinking that if anyone would understand his rationale, it would the guy who once sat in the same seat. The union initially opposed Tagliabue's selection for that very reason, fearing he was too invested in the league's business to be a fair arbiter. Turns out they both got it wrong.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player should we be talking more about?

Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player should we be talking more about?

As training camp continues to build, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will answer burning questions related to the Washington Football Team.

Up next: Which player should we be talking more about as the season nears?

JP's pick: Landon Collins

This might seem odd, but one of Washington’s most expensive players is flying under the radar during the transition to the Ron Rivera era. 

That would be Landon Collins. 

An All Pro in 2016 with the Giants, Washington signed him to a long-term deal last year that included $45 million guaranteed. He was good last season, but not great, and he’s being paid to be great. 

When Rivera or Jack Del Rio get questions about their defense this fall, most center around a stocked defensive front or questions about cornerback depth. 

To break through and be a dominant defensive unit, Washington needs more out of Collins, too.

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Pete's pick: Montez Sweat

Thanks to being drafted alongside a prolific college quarterback, Montez Sweat was overlooked heading into his debut season. Now, because of Chase Young's presence, he's similarly sneaking into Year 2.

That doesn't lessen his importance to the defense, however.

For Washington's unit to be as ferocious as many hope it will be, all three of their pass rushers — Young, Ryan Kerrigan and Sweat — need to do damage.

Despite not having taken an NFL snap yet, it's almost expected that Young will feast right away. Kerrigan, meanwhile, is aging and coming off of his first experience with injuries as a pro, but his track record speaks for itself. Sweat is the one who feels like the X-factor in that trio.

He's very quiet, he's amongst the organization's deepest position and he's got a ways to go before justifying his 2019 draft position. But Sweat came on in the second half of the schedule as a rookie and if he keeps that up, he'll start drawing more attention  — both from fans and opponents.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Despite seeking him out after the whistle and headbutting him with force to earn an ejection from Tuesday night's game, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Wizards big man Moe Wagner. He explained the move as general frustration boiling over.

"I don’t have nothing against Wagner, it wasn’t just him. It was just, like, in my mind all these games I’ve played guys hitting me so I lost it for a second," Antetokounmpo told reporters. 

He went on to express regret over the incident, which is certain to result in a fine and possibly a suspension. His explanation, though, runs a bit counter to how the Wizards saw it all.

Wagner was not made available to the media, but his teammates weighed in and all seemed to believe it stemmed from something that happened between them earlier this season.

"They have something in the past, I don't even know," Rui Hachimura said.

"That was just some blood from back then," Ish Smith said. 

They seemed to be referencing the Feb. 24 meeting between the teams when Antetokounmpo fouled out in only 25 minutes, and with some help from Wagner. That night, Wagner gave a quote that could also have been said after this game: "He’s a really good player. I want him out of the game, obviously."

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On Tuesday, Antetokounmpo again exited early against the Wizards, and again the Bucks held on for the win, just like they did in February. Still, him leaving gave the Wizards a bit of a break. 

The reigning MVP had been dominating with 12 points and nine rebounds in 10 minutes.

"I'm not saying he's a dirty player, but he's good at those little things," Hachimura said of Wagner. "Giannis was actually out for the game. It was really big [for] us. He changed the whole game, actually. Moe's a great guy."

RELATED: GIANNIS EJECTED FOR HEADBUTTING MOE WAGNER

Wagner has a tendency to get under the skin of his opponents. He has had run-ins with other big men, most notably Joel Embiid.

He did his part, but the Bucks still had enough to beat the Wizards. Now the question is whether it was a pyrrhic victory with a potential suspension for Antetokounmpo coming next.

"There's no place for that. It's unfortunate," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's unfortunate that it happened. I'm sure the league is going to look at it and make a decision. Fortunately for [the Bucks], it's not a playoff game [up next]. I'm sure he's probably going to miss a couple of games."

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