I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to understand the whole Paul Tagliabue decision as it relates to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and the NFL’s position on the entire matter.

I found myself feeling confused and diffused, until I finally realized something:

That’s exactly what’s going on at 345 Park Avenue right now.

The NFL appoints Tagliabue to arbitrate the appeal. He agrees with the finding that four Saints players did wrong, and yet he vacates the disciplinary action the NFL levied against them. The assertion is that the players were acting at the behest of the Saints coaches still aims an accusing finger at Sean Payton, and yet the news came Wednesday that the NFL has started reinstatement talks with Peyton that could have him back behind his desk before the Super Bowl kicks off in New Orleans.


As Denzel Washington said in “Philadelphia,” explain it to me like I’m a 4-year-old.

Either they were guilty, or they aren’t. Either they deserve punishment, or they deserve complete exoneration, including an apology to the players, something Roger Goodell said Wednesday he was unwilling to give.

Instead, the end product of this nine-month long meatgrinder are lines drawn in the sand that were blurred out by vacillating retreats.

It all comes down to what you believe. I believe the Saints had a bounty system in place. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified to that fact. Of course he could be lying, or maybe felt coerced into saying so in order to be allowed to coach in the NFL again one day.

Given the recent course of events, I’d half expect Williams to be coaching before the day is out.

I understand the seething indignation of Saints fans who believe this was a Goodell conspiracy to dismantle the Saints. But those who cry conspiracy also want to believe the Saints had no bounty system in place while at the same time believing that other NFL franchises did.

That logic is about as convoluted as what’s passing for rational thought at NFL headquarters these days.

Ultimately, this is about money, not conspiracy. The NFL is facing what could be a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit from former players over failing to adequately protect their safety. The NFL had to get tough on such an obvious target as bounties, and the Saints happened to strolling down Park Avenue at the time.

As for the Saints, it’s simply been a wasted year, made even more poignant when one hears the ticking clock of Drew Brees’ career. Brees will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he won’t be an elite-level quarterback forever. He’ll turn 34 before next season begins, before Payton is allowed to coach again. Before the Saints can try to be what they wanted to be this season again.

The only clarity in this is found in the last lines of the movie “Presumed Innocent,” however you choose to interpret them:

There was a crime. There was a victim. And there is punishment.