Last time we heard from former Saints safety Darren Sharper in regard to the Bayou bounty scandal, he was upset about the fact that someone snitched and was defending his head coach. He insisted that Sean Payton had no knowledge of the shenanigans, even though Payton has since admitted he was aware. Now, Payton’s been suspended for the entire 2012 season and several other supposed ringleaders have been dealt heavy punishments.
So, what does Sharper have to say now?
Darren Sharper joined WWL in New Orleans to discuss the newest BountyGate developments and weigh in on the length of Sean Payton’s suspension. He also addressed whether this episode taints the Saints’ Super Bowl victory and whether he has any regrets pertaining to his involvement.
On if Sean Payton’s season-long suspension was too severe:
“Yeah, I’m very disappointed about it because of the fact that they’re gonna lose their head coach who was their No. 1 leader for that team and also organization. And whenever you lose a guy with as much credibility and as much talent as a coach that Sean Payton has, it’s gonna be tough on your team and it’s definitely a shot to the team. As far as the punishment being too harsh, that’s not for me to decide. The commissioner — we’ve seen in the past — whenever he levies penalties or fines he does it to the utmost. And we know he’s a no-nonsense type of commissioner. He’s a guy that’s gonna definitely lay the law down and lay the law down hard. And you have to understand and accept that. You have to deal with it and keep moving.”
On if he thinks Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis misleading NFL investigators played a role:
“No doubt. No doubt. Just like if you are a parent and your kid, you tell him four or five times to get off the couch, stop jumping on the couch, and then you walk out the room and he’s back jumping on the couch. You’re gonna be more upset than you would’ve been if you caught him the first time. So that’s just how the situation is. From what I hear, he had to inform the team to stop with the program, they turned their head and said, ‘OK, we will stop,’ and continued. So that probably made the ramifications of the penalties even harsher and greater.”
On if players at the time ever figured the pay-for-performance program could backfire:
“No we didn’t think about that at all, because no one was going out there and intentionally trying to put harm to our opponents and other players. We have a lot of respect for guys around the league, our peers. And no way were we thinking about, ‘OK, if I can go out here and I try to get a sack early in the game and make a couple hundred dollars…’ Nobody was even thinking about that while the game was being played. You had to think too much about what the opponent was doing, what your defensive game plan was. If you had any thoughts in your mind about making a couple extra hundred dollars when you’re already getting paid thousands to play the game, you’re stupid. So no guys weren’t thinking about — especially in the meeting rooms — that we would have ramifications from this. We all looked at it as a fun thing which we brought camaraderie together and made us closer as a team.”
On if this taints the Super Bowl season:
“It puts a little bit of a black mark, I think, on the organization and what we accomplished throughout these last couple of years — the amount of winning that the Saints have been doing. I don’t think it tarnishes the Super Bowl championship because we didn’t do anything as far as, against rules playing the game. Now, what we did inside a meeting room might have been looked at as, OK we did something that the NFL did not like and which they warned the team about and informed us that we needed to stop. And now we’re getting fined for that. But we played the game legally, we played the game hard, tough and the right way. And we beat teams, we were the best team in the world that year. So I don’t think it tarnishes at all what we were able to accomplish that year as a team.”
On how much the team will miss Payton:
“It’s a huge loss, because in being in the locker room, being with that team and knowing how much of a control of the pulse of that team that Coach Payton has — and not only him but losing Joe Vitt, who’s also an excellent coach for that team. It’s gonna be tough this year and you know it’s gonna be a transition because you lose Gregg Williams, who implemented the aggressive style of play that the New Orleans defense has been notarized as being now. So that was an adjustment period that they will have to get used to this offseason. Now you take away the head coach who can’t be a buffer, you take away Joe Vitt who can’t be a buffer for the guys that are in the locker room that have been there the last couple of years. And that’s what makes it tough. And we all know how much of a game day talent Coach Payton is as far as making adjustments throughout the game. No one has the ability that he has. I know that Pete Carmichael is gonna do a great job whether he becomes a interim head coach or coach Spagnuolo, who has experience as a head coach, will be the interim also. But no one can do it how Coach Payton did it, because he just knows the team and he has a great sense or feel for the pulse of that team and what needs to be done on certain days to kind of push the team to play at a higher level.”
On if he has any regrets:
“No, not at all. No regrets because I feel we played the game the right way. We played the game tough. Whether or not we had a little bit of a fun program where everybody calls it bounties — I don’t like that word because that seems as though you’re going out trying to get someone, and what we were doing was just finding a way to get an edge, to play tougher than an opponent that we were going against. And how we won throughout that year in no way in any possible do I regret. It was probably the best time of my life and it’s still something I look back on and I’m very proud of, and I will be for the rest of my life.”
On if he sympathizes with the fans:
“The team will be OK. As much talent as this team has, they will put a good product on the football field. Will they take a step back? I would assume so because Coach Payton is such a big part of that team. But I can understand how upset the fans might be because of the fact that they’re gonna lose one of their leaders, they’re gonna lose a guy that they come to games to see, and that’s Coach Payton. And then also added to that is something that people really need to understand, too — I think the Saints need to understand — is that it’s imperative that they get something done and take care of their quarterback Drew Brees. Because what’s gonna add to this situation and make this season tough is you have a quarterback that’s been a bit disrespected by the stalled contract negotiations.
Now, he’s the guy that’s gonna be pushed to the front as your leader of your team, and the leader of your organization, more than he was before in previous years. So if Coach can take care of this guy, make him happy, bring him in so he’s there the entire offseason to lead this team so that they have a similar voice that they had when Coach Payton was there. Because Coach Payton and Drew Brees are tied to the hip. So it’s a big deal to take care of this guy. They could have him there for the long term because he don’t wanna have a team that does not have their quarterback throughout the offseason. And also once they do sign him or make him play out the year as a franchise quarterback, he has contract talks going through his head throughout the year and he’s also very upset because he should be taken care of like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady has been taken care of.”
On if this team can weather the storm:
“Yeah it’s gonna be tough and that’s gonna be discussed throughout the season, but the leadership of the Saints and me being there and seeing how strong-willed these guys are in the locker room and also once they play on the football field, they’ll be fine and they’ll push through and they’ll make enough necessary plays to win games. They’re just too talented of a team. Will they be able to be as successful if Coach Payton was there and … fight that way throughout a 16-game, maybe a 20-game schedule? That’s yet to be determined. But best believe they have the leadership in place to be a successful team this year.”