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Several players have said the Saints weren’t the only team with such a system. Others have described extra cash doled out for interceptions or fumbles or blocked kicks; that is against NFL rules, too. Turley recalled contributing to such funds himself, and described seeing an assistant coach _ he wouldn’t say who _ open a briefcase and pull out wads of cash to toss to players after a victory.

“Every team had their deal,” Turley said.

Al Smith, a Houston Oilers linebacker from 1987-96, said the biggest payout he ever collected from a player-generated bonus fund was “$500 or something like that for a big hit. … It was enough to go on a good date.”

His position coach for his final three seasons? Williams. But Smith said that as far as he knew, Williams never contributed money to the Oilers’ pool.

The NFL absolved Saints owner Tom Benson of blame, but determined that general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton knew about the team’s program. A Saints official told The Associated Press on Monday that Benson is “110 percent behind his guys,” and that the bond among the owner, GM and coach “could not be stronger.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still ongoing.

Punishment for the Saints could include suspensions, fines and taking away draft picks.

“I know it’s going to be pretty severe. Commissioner Goodell is going to have to do something to set an example,” former NFL player and head coach Herm Edwards said. “But I don’t think anybody should lose a job over this, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Hall of Fame tailback Tony Dorsett, who, like Turley, is a former player suing the NFL and its teams, wonders what all the fuss is about.

“I think a little bit too much is being made out of it, personally,” Dorsett said. “If it was me, and I’m a defensive player, and I’m playing against the Dallas Cowboys, and Tony Dorsett happens to be one of their best players, it would be to our best advantage to get him out of the game. If it’s within the rules of tackling and contact, so be it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. … They’re not telling a guy to mangle somebody or kill somebody. It’s: `Get him out of the game.’”

That said, Dorsett also believes it’s important to make sure players aren’t allowed back in games if they are hurt. He and other ex-players say more should have been done in the past to warn about concussions and more can be done now to help retired players deal with mental and physical problems they attribute to their days in the NFL.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has discussed bounties in the context of the league’s “responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game.”

While Gabe Feldman, a law professor and director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, said there isn’t really a direct legal connection between the lawsuits and the NFL’s handling of the bounty issue.

“But certainly from a league image _ league perception _ perspective, it’s connected,” Feldman said. “It gets to what reasonable steps the league took, or has taken, to prevent unnecessary injury, and what knowledge the league has about risks of injury.”

Feldman doesn’t expect any criminal or civil legal action specifically tied to the bounty system, whether criminal (law enforcement authorities pursuing cases against someone involved in cash-for-hits plans) or civil (players who were injured by hits that earned bonus pay).

“They’re difficult cases to bring, because it’s hard to prove the injury was caused by a tackle with specific intent to injure, rather than a regular tackle,” Feldman explained. “We all know injuries are a part of football. There can’t be legal liability anytime there is an injury. Otherwise, you can’t have football.”

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