On Friday, the NFL announced after a two-year investigation that New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams implemented and administrated a bounty system which rewarded defensive players who knocked opposing players from the game, among other things. Yesterday, the Buffalo News' Tim Graham published a report quoting former Buffalo Bills players saying the same thing happened under Williams when he was head coach.
Williams was Buffalo's head coach from 2001 to 2003. Several Bills defenders told Graham that a financial compensation plan was in place during that time. The most outspoken in the article was former safety Coy Wire, who joined the Bills in 2002.
"There was financial compensation," Wire said. "That's real. That happened in Buffalo."
Wire and three other anonymous defensive players from that era confirmed the bounties with Graham.
"There were rewards," said Wire. "There never was a point where cash was handed out in front of the team. But surely, you were going to be rewarded. When somebody made a big hit that hurt an opponent, it was commended and encouraged."
Wire also told Graham that he never received a payment during Williams' tenure, nor does he remember how the system was set up.
Former Bills lineman Ruben Brown disputes the reports, telling WGRZ in Buffalo that it didn't happen.
"No, I never heard anything like that, don't know what he did when he was in Washington and New Orleans, but not in Buffalo," Brown told Ben Hayes. "I never heard any talk of bounty hunting, killing people, maiming people, ending people's careers, I never heard anything like that."
No reports have indicated that offensive players would have been involved in the bounty system.
Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon also denied the team knowing anything.
"We became aware of the information regarding the investigation late [Friday], when the story became public," Brandon said in a statement. "We are unaware of any type of 'bounty' program occurring during Gregg Williams' tenure as our head coach, and we would not have tolerated that type of behavior."
The Washington Post also reported that a similar bounty system was in place during Williams' stint as defensive coordinator for the Redskins. There are no reports yet from Jacksonville from Williams' lone season with the Jaguars nor Tennessee where he was prior to Buffalo.
The investigation into Williams' Saints tenure uncovered a long paper trail of emails as well as witnesses to the bounty system in place in New Orleans. Without that type of evidence it will be difficult for the NFL to sanction the Bills in this case. If more former players are willing to go on the record, the possibility still exists that the Redskins and Bills will have to deal with more fallout from this case.
Linebacker Eddie Robinson, who was with Williams in several of the coach's stops including Buffalo, defended the man he called a "father figure" to Graham.
"I've seen him at every level and heard him talk in front of a lot of guys," Robinson told Graham from his home in Houston. "I've never heard him say 'Go out there and hurt somebody,' and I don't want him to get that kind of rap.
"If Gregg is going out there to tell people, 'Knock somebody's head off on purpose,' that's not right. But in the time he coached me, I never heard that language come out of his mouth."
Other players have come to Williams' defense, as well. An unnamed player told the News, "I think it was more player-driven than coaching-staff driven. Nobody ever stressed doing anything illegal or intentionally hurting somebody, but obviously that would be the result. We didn't reward guys for big hits. It was more, 'We want their backup quarterback in the game.'"
Not only does this type of payment system bring up ethical questions about players crossing the line to injury other players, it violates the salary cap and collective bargaining agreements. It remains to be seen what action the league will take against Williams and his former teams. He left the Saints to join the St. Louis Rams this off-season.