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“I’ve been around teams where players put up money for game goals like kickoff tackles inside the 20, 100 yards rushing, defensive turnovers,” said Faneca, who retired last May after playing 13 seasons for Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Arizona.

The NFL also warns teams against such practices before each season.

“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said of the Saints in a statement Friday. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.”

The league said 22 to 27 defensive players were involved in the program. Its findings were corroborated by multiple, independent sources, and the pool amounts peaked in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.

The 49ers were surprised when the Saints called 18 first-half blitzes in the teams’ exhibition opener last August, won 24-3 by the Saints in the Superdome. New Orleans sacked the San Francisco QBs six times: two on Alex Smith and four against backup rookie Colin Kaepernick.

One Saints player fined last season for flagrant hits was safety Roman Harper. In Week 14 against Tennessee, he made two hits that drew a total of $22,500 in fines.

Harper was fined $15,000 for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit, and another $7,500 for unnecessary roughness when he pulled down receiver Damian Williams by his helmet after a long catch and run. The tackle likely stopped Williams from scoring, and Gregg Williams defended Harper’s aggressiveness on that play after the game.

“If that guy doesn’t want his head tore off, duck. Because that’s how we’re playing. He needs to duck, OK? And that is exactly what you have to do,” Williams said. “One of the things about playing in this league is that your mental toughness, your physical toughness, all that kind of stuff works hand in hand. And I love Roman Harper and the way he plays, and evidently a lot of other people and players in the league do, too, because they keep on voting him to the Pro Bowl.”

AP Sports Writers Rick Freeman and Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York, Janie McCauley in San Francisco, and John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this story.