4 players suspended by NFL for Saints’ bounties

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Fujita, the NFL said, “pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool” during that season’s playoffs. Smith, according to the NFL, “pledged significant sums to the program pool.”

The league said Hargrove “actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.” He also “actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints,” the league said, adding that he eventually “submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it.”

Vilma will miss out on $1.6 million in base salary in 2012, while Fujita stands lose more than $640,000, Hargrove more than $385,000, and Smith more than $190,000. Some of their contracts were restructured this offseason, perhaps in anticipation of the punishments.

The Saints, Browns and Packers already have made personnel moves that could help fill the gaps. The Saints signed three linebackers in free agency; the Packers, who also will be without defensive end Mike Neal for four games because he violated the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, drafted two defensive linemen last week; and the Browns drafted two linebackers.

“We will respect the Commissioner’s decision. Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.

The other two clubs did not immediately comment.

Any payout for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, is against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently _ just not on the same scale as was found in New Orleans.

Goodell’s decision was heavily criticized via Twitter by many players. But not all.

“I think he’s doing the right thing to make sure this doesn’t happen ever again. There’s no room for any kind of bounty system in the NFL. It’s a physical sport, and you’ve got to respect the game,” New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. “He’s been harsh, to try to make a statement saying there is no place for this in the game of football.”

James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a linebacker suspended by the NFL for a game last season after an illegal hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, tweeted that the penalties were “ridiculous” and suggested that Goodell’s crackdown is motivated by the concussion lawsuits and a desire to increase the regular season to 18 games.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted: “I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation.”

Reggie Bush, a running back who played for the Saints from 2006-10 and now is with the Miami Dolphins, wrote on Twitter that the suspensions were “outrageous” and “Next thing you know we’ll be playing two hand touch football! (hash)Lame”

In a memo sent Wednesday to the NFL’s 32 teams, Goodell reminded them that “any program of non-contract bonuses, however it is characterized, is a violation of league rules” and said that every head coach must review those rules with assistants and players during mini-camp or preseason training camp.

Also, all players will be told how they can confidentially report rules violations.

In March, Goodell made Payton the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, for trying to cover up the system of extra cash payouts. Goodell also indefinitely banned Williams, who was hired in January to run the St. Louis Rams’ defense. Loomis was barred for eight games; Vitt for six. The Saints were fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks.

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