NEW ORLEANS Five years ago, the New Orleans Saints were barely one week into training camp preparing for the 2012 season with an ominous cloud hovering over their organization called Bounty gate.
Those were difficult times, tumultous times, dark times, regrettable times.
Hopefully, time heals all wounds.
That said, the Saints still are struggling to put a complete team on the field under the watch of General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton long after NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell found that coaches and 22-to-27 players participated in a bounty system that gave cash awards for knocking opponents out of games from 2009 through 2011.
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The sanctions issued March 21, 2012 against Saints owner Tom Benson and his franchise were unprecedented. Consider:
▪ The Saints were fined $500,000.
▪ The team lost a second-round pick in 2013.
▪ Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, Loomis eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games.
▪ Four players ultimately had their suspensions of varying lengths overturned by special prosecutor and former NFL commissioner Paul Taliabue (Jon Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita).
▪ Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who had parted ways after the 2011 season and prior to the league ruling, also was suspended indefinitely for his alleged role in the scandal.
Before the 2012 sanctions, the Saints were widely considered to be one of the league's elite franchises largely because of their win in Super Bowl XLIV with a chance to compete annually for the Lombardi Trophy. The same can no longer be said after three consecutive 7-9 seasons (a fourth counting 2012 under interim coaches Aaron Kromer and Vitt) and only one playoff appearance in 2013 since the sanctions came crashing down.
Only nine players (five starters) remain from that 2012 season: quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel, running backs Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadet, tackles Zach Strief and Bryce Harris, defensive end Cam Jordan, safety Rafael Bush and punter Thomas Morstead.
Only one of the five draft picks in 2012 has ever amounted to much -- third-round pick defensive end Alkiem Hicks, now with the Chicago Bears after being traded to New England in 2015.
Much has been written about Goodell serving as judge, jury and executioner, the overall merits of the case, whether the sanctions were fair, heavy handed or even warranted, the guilt and innocense of the principal characters and the overall impact the scandal has had on the Saints organization.
Some say there was much ado about nothing. Some say the Saints got screwed royally. Some say the Saints football operations got what it richly deserved. Some say all NFL teams encourage head hunting in some form or fashion.
Say what you will.
C'est la vie.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.