The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma without pay for all of next season Wednesday and gave shorter bans to three other players for their leading roles in the team's cash-for-hits system that knocked key opponents out of games from 2009-11.
Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended for the first half of the 16-game season; Saints defensive end Will Smith was barred for the opening four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three games of 2012. Like Vilma, they were suspended without pay, costing each hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The league said its investigation showed "a significant number of players participated" in the bounties — by ponying up cash or collecting it — but noted that "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level." Add the losses of Vilma and Smith to the previously announced suspension of head coach Sean Payton for all of 2012, along with shorter penalties for general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came down hard on the Saints ahead of a season that will end with New Orleans hosting the Super Bowl.
To put it mildly, Rutgers' Eric LeGrand was surprised when his former coach called to let him know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were interested in signing the paralyzed defensive tackle.
"It came out of nowhere," LeGrand said Wednesday after the Bucs announced what Greg Schiano described as a "small gesture" to recognize LeGrand's "character, spirit and perseverance."
Schiano left the Scarlet Knights for the Bucs in January, but the first-time NFL head coach has remained in contact with LeGrand and his family.
"It's a symbolic gesture. They can't give me any money with the salary cap and all that kind of stuff," LeGrand said.
LeGrand is still undergoing therapy and pursing his college degree.
The Bucs are shipping a No. 52 jersey to LeGrand, along with a helmet and contract.