Bernie: Williams' fate is in Goodell's hands

BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist | Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2012 12:50 am

The NFL found that Saints players were paid bonuses for (among other things) hits that knocked opponents out of games. The NFL's official report cites the culpability of Williams, who ran the Saints' defense from 2009-2011. According to the league's report, Williams on occasion put his own money into the bounty pool.

Williams issued a statement apologizing for his actions and conceding that he failed to intervene to stop the Saints' misdeeds.

Also on Friday, the Washington Post reported that Williams had implemented a similar pay-for-pain bounty system during his time as the Redskins' defensive coordinator.

Do we detect a pattern of behavior here?

These motivational tactics aren't uncommon in the NFL. So-called bounties are nothing new in the NFL, but most teams manage to keep it quiet.

But the league is trying to alter the culture. Player safety has become a crusade for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has cracked down on players that deliver violent hits on defenseless players.

I'd be surprised if Goodell didn't hammer Williams with a lengthy suspension.

And the punishment would be warranted.

Given Goodell's serious initiative in this area, how could the leader of the NFL permit Williams to get off with a relatively light punishment?

Here are four possible, speculative reasons:

• Williams may have come clean in advance by fully cooperating with the investigation. Williams could have helped the NFL discover the full scope of what went down in New Orleans. I'd imagine that the NFL would take kindly to such valuable assistance.

• Williams did offer an unconditional confession and apology. This could be part of the arrangement in a plea-bargain deal to assure leniency.

• Perhaps the NFL determined that Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was unaware of Williams' involvement in this unseemly business when he hired Williams in St. Louis. If so, the league may be reluctant to penalize the Rams for wrongdoing committed in New Orleans.

• Goodell was criticized for letting New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick duck a suspension for his role in the notorious "Spygate" scandal. Belichick was fined $500,000, but Goodell didn't prevent The Hoodie from coaching. Should Goodell suspend Williams, the commissioner would clearly open himself up to charges of hypocrisy and favoritism.

On the other hand, if Goodell wants to be taken seriously in his effort to reduce gratuitous and dangerous violence on NFL playing fields, he'll look bad if he gives Williams a break.

This is embarrassing for Williams. And these revelations don't reflect well on the Rams, either. Williams may have been guilty of misconduct while working for another team, but he's a Rams' employee now.

Another question: what did Fisher know, and when did he know it?

Was Fisher aware of the pending accusations against Williams before he made the hire? An NFL source told me that Fisher did not know of the NFL's findings in advance of his decision to recruit Williams to run the Rams defense.

We'll wait and see how this shakes out. I doubt that the Rams will consider firing Williams. But if Williams is suspended, does Fisher have a backup plan? More turmoil at Rams Park. Will it ever end?