The suspensions are more valuable in the message they'll send to future players, but the four Saints deserve any repercussions they face for their participation in the bounty scandal.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (full-season suspension), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games), defensive end Will Smith (four games) and linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) were given stern punishments that reflect their actions and also caution future players from being inclined to follow in their paths.
The NFL found the Saints were targeting Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner during New Orleans' run to Super Bowl XLIV, and those were just two of the bigger names that surfaced. Truth be told, while both Favre and Warner were victimized by hard hits, the Saints and the NFL escaped a major blow that would have resulted in the fallout if either player happened to get seriously injured.
For instance, imagine if Carson Palmer's devastating knee injury in the 2005 playoffs occurred while there was a bounty program in place. The league would have suffered a permanent stain due to a fan base's vitriol, the high probability of lawsuits and forthcoming questions of competitive balance. Plus, that injury derailed Palmer's career for years.
Or any other big name for that matter — a Tom Brady, a Peyton Manning, a Calvin Johnson, whoever. Injuries happen due to dirty plays, clean tackles and freakishly bad luck. But if a superstar's career was lost over a $10,000 bounty? That would be a deplorable act that no player should ever be comfortable with accepting.
The thought of a bounty program has to sicken so many around the league. When players, friends or otherwise, shake hands before and after games, they almost always depart with a wish of, "Stay healthy," or something of that nature.
The players are driven against one another due to their laundry, and some of them absolutely find a reason to hate their opponents. Yet, through it all, they're united by their wishes of good health.
The Saints broke that code. Maybe it happens elsewhere. Maybe it was more prevalent in previous decades. Or maybe defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was on a rogue mission inside of his own locker room.
The fact is the Saints are paying a just price with their suspensions. The players might be overwhelmed by their respective durations, but Goodell's message wasn't about the present or the past. He wanted his voice to be heard for generations because the sanctity of the league can't come into question.
And the players — the Saints' peers, no less — have to believe they're facing an honest opponent who wants to hit them in the name of victory and nothing else.