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“They can say they put a bounty out on me when I got knocked out against San Francisco in the playoffs. You can say they put a bounty out on me. Who knows? But they’re just targeting us right now,” he said. “But I’m not faulting the guy that hit me. It’s the nature of the game. That happens.”

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he couldn’t speak directly to the Saints’ situation, but despite all the hits he’s taken, he’d be surprised if an opponent was trying to injure him.

“We all respect each other so much,” he said. “We all know how hard it is. It really surprised me that guys would want to try to intentionally hurt somebody. This is a fraternity. There’s so few of us that do it. The average life expectancy is three years in the NFL or something like that.

“It would shock me if people were trying to intentionally hurt people.”

Thomas said he has not spoken with Vilma or any of his other teammates on defense.

“They probably got a lot on their plate as it is. It’s not my business to jump in,” he said.

Payton has spoken to his old boss, former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, about possibly taking over the Saints while he is suspended.

Goodell has said he would be fine with Parcells stepping in. Thomas liked the idea, too.

“I mean it would be great. That’s somebody coach Payton always talked about in meetings, admired him. He seemed like a great coach. I never played underneath him, but I learned a lot about him. I heard a lot about him. He seems like a great guy,” Thomas said.

“I know we would love to have him if it happens, but we would prefer Payton to be there with his team, to lead us on the way he’s been doing.”

The Saints’ offseason training program begins April 16. Thomas is hoping that, no matter what happens, the bounty scandal will be settled by then.

“Hopefully, this doesn’t keep lingering on,” he said. “You don’t want this to linger on while we’re preparing for a season. You want to make sure everything is focused on one thing: Trying to get to that Super Bowl.”

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AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington, D.C. and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.