Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White said that Bucs players bet on which player will have the biggest game, which reminded Saints fans of BountyGate.
Devin White has never been shy about how competitive he is with his Bucs teammates.
White even had a YouTube series last season titled “Horsin’ Around“, in which he challenged his teammates to a playful game of HORSE.
So when White revealed that he and his fellow Bucs players reward the player with the biggest game, New Orleans media capitalized on the comment.
It wasn’t long before Saints fans started asking themselves how having players pay each other $1,000 as a reward for big plays was all that different from BountyGate, the scandal that rocked the Saints franchise back in 2011.
“Why does this not fall into a bounty?” responded one Saints fan on Twitter.
“Suspend their head coach for a year, dock them some picks, suspend anyone else even remotely associated with it, and set their franchise back years — Y’know, like what happened to the Saints for doing the same thing,” replied another.
Was Devin White’s Bucs comment really like the BountyGate scandal for the New Orleans Saints?
Even though White’s comments certainly raised eyebrows, especially among Saints fans, there are a few key differences between what he described and what New Orleans was penalized for in 2011.
First, this is an informal bet between White and his teammates, not something that is systemically encouraged by the coaching staff and those in a position of authority. Second, White only described rewarding players for a “big play”, not for injuring players, which was reportedly encouraged during the BountyGate era.
To clarify, what New Orleans was charged with during the BountyGate scandal was paying players bonuses (bounties) for injuring opposing players. The Saints had been criticized for egregious hits against quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner in the 2009 postseason that seemed to be done with the intent to injure. In the 2010 offseason, after the Saints won their first and only Super Bowl, an anonymous player confirmed that the Saints were targeting Favre and Warner with harmful hits. This kicked off a year-long investigation that found the coaches responsible and reprimanded the team with some of the heaviest penalties in NFL history.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and head coach Sean Payton were suspended for the entire 2012 season; general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games in the 2012 season; the Saints faced a $500,000 fine and were docked second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013 — these were just a few of the repercussions the team faced as a result. Four Saints players who were determined to be the ringleaders were suspended, as was Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the 2012 season.
Although what White describes and what the Saints employed with BountyGate appear to be different in key regards, in the wrong hands, rewarding teammates for “big plays” could get ugly quickly.
“While the payment is made between a pair of players and apparently not organized or sanctioned by the team, it’s a practice that easily could spread to more players and, eventually, become part of the fabric of the Tampa Bay defense,” argued Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk.
Florio details how “the slope quickly gets slippery” for the Bucs if they are not careful about how they address this practice.
“Again, this is far cry from the bounty programs that multiple teams administered before the NFL pulled the plug by making an extreme example out of the Saints,” Florio said. “However, now that it’s come to light, the smart move for the Bucs would be to tell them to shut it down or, at a minimum, to quit talking about it.”
So far, White’s doing a pretty great job of making those big plays, scoring three sacks, 19 total tackles and one forced fumble through two games. However, he and his Bucs teammate need to be careful about how they incentivize phenomenal play — and what exactly they are rewarding.