What a difference a year — let alone a day — makes in the National Football League.
Last year, the NFL, owners, management and players were just settling in for what promised to be a long-haul labor dispute which essentially kept professional football out of the regular flow of news for months, during the crucial time after the April draft when fan excitement typically builds over prospects for the coming season. Its relevance and even the NFL brand faded for a while.
This year, however, the NFL's off season is pulling a 180-degree turn worthy of the league's nimblest scatback. Today's announcement by Commissioner Roger Goodell of very stiff penalties for head coach Sean Payton and others associated with the New Orleans Saints for their bounty-hunting exploits broke on the same day that the Denver Broncos traded the closely watched Tim Tebow to that media-wallflower team, the New York Jets.
And oh, yes — the signing of Peyton Manning by those same Broncos? That already is so two days ago.
"It's clear that [the Saints' bounty hunting] was widely kown," Goodell said in an interview today on NFL Network, in which he also said he and the league had been "lied to" by the Saints when they investigated rumors of a bounty system on the team a few years ago.
"And if you weren't aware of it as head coach, you should have been. That was a critical factor ... All of us are responsible for maintaining the credibility of the league."
Arguably, the penalties on the Saints are the biggest official levies against NFL personnel since the then-commissioner, Pete Rozelle, suspended former Detroit Lion Alex Karras and former Green Bay Packer Paul Hornung in 1963 for gambling.
Specifically, the Saints will lose the services of Payton, without paying him, for a year, and of their general manager and others for varying lengths of time. Fines and loss of draft picks also were involved. And Goodell still may announce sanctions against players.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who allegedly presided over the scheme in which his players offered and accepted bounties for attempting to hurt opposing players, was indefinitely suspended. He had been hired away from the Saints to become defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.
Some of those penalized reportedly were stunned by the severity of their sentences. But in the NFL Network interview, Goodell resolutely defended the league's actions as good for "the game," meaning the NFL brand. He's increasingly mindful of the disquiet that the level of violence in the NFL causes some American cultural arbiters, and in part his tough stance clearly is meant to send a message that he hears them.
"While it is a strong message," Goodell said, It's an important one to send ... to protect our players ... It's not going to be tolerated."
On any other day, the Tebow trade would have dominated discussion about the NFL. In a deal that remained tentative as of this afternoon, the Jets are bringing him in either to complement or challenge incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez, promising to kick off an even bigger media feeding frenzy — if that's possible — than the Tebow story generated last year when he was in Denver.
You still have to like the Jets' chances better than the Saints.