Roger Goodell sent a message to every coach and player in the NFL: safety first. The league commissioner stuck with his punishments for New Orleans' pay-for-pain bounties on Monday, rejecting coach Sean Payton's appeal of a season-long suspension.
An NFL investigation found that, under Payton's watch, an assistant ran a program offering cash payouts for hits that knocked targeted opponents out of games or hurt them so badly they needed help getting to the sideline.
Next on Goodell's agenda: discipline for players involved in the bounty program that began in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The Saints case represents perhaps the starkest example yet of the sea change that the NFL has undergone since medical research and media reports on the long-term damage suffered by football players through concussions began to gain attention.
As recently as October 2009, while testifying before Congress, Goodell did not acknowledge a link between head injuries on the field and brain diseases later in life. And hundreds of NFL retirees are now suing the league for health problems they say began with their playing careers.
Yet the league has taken a series of steps to better protect players in recent years, and just last month expanded the definition of "defenseless players" who may not be hit in the head or neck and cannot be hit by someone leading with a helmet.
In addition to upholding Payton's suspension, which begins Monday and runs through the Super Bowl in February 2013, Goodell affirmed suspensions of eight games for Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt. He also kept in place a $500,000 fine for the franchise and the loss of draft picks this year and next.
EAGLES: Defensive tackle Derek Landri, who had 43 tackles and two sacks in 12 games last season, agreed to a one-year contract.
REDSKINS: Offensive lineman James Lee, who spent the past four seasons with the Bucs, signed with Washington. He is expected to provide depth behind starting right tackle Jammal Brown, who has been hampered by injuries in recent years.
SEAHAWKS: Nine-year veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant, released on March 7 with two years left on his contract, agreed to a one-year deal to return to Seattle.