Ex-Saint: Coaches made me lie about bounties

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Ex-Saint: Coaches made me lie about bounties

From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargove describes in a sworn statement how he was told by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt to deny the existence of a bounty program to NFL investigators.In a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press, Hargrove acknowledges that he acted on Williams' and Vitt's instructions to "play dumb" if asked whether he was aware of bounties being placed on former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre or any other player.The declaration does not go into specifics, however, about just what Hargrove knew or did not know about the bounty program in New Orleans, and for that reason it has become a point of contention between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.From the union's perspective, Hargrove's statement does not say that he lied to anyone, nor does it state that he or any other Saints participated in a bounty program that offered cash bonuses for hits that injured targeted opponents.The NFL, by contrast, has said that Hargrove's words acknowledge the existence of a bounty program and show that Hargrove initially lied to NFL investigators about it.In describing Hargrove's declaration last week, Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney hired by the NFL to review its investigation, said the player, "acknowledges the nature of the program and his participation in it, and, which is really the thrust of the declaration, that he was told to lie about it, and he did when he was asked about it in 2010 by the NFL investigators."Hargrove, currently with Green Bay, was one of four players who received suspensions of various lengths in connection with the bounty probe. Hargrove was suspended eight games, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita for three games.Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg called the NFL's characterization of Hargrove's statement "misleading.""All we know from the declaration is that a couple of coaches were in trouble and hoped for support from him," Ginsberg said. "Anthony's declaration in no way supports that he lied, that a bounty system existed or that players participated in any kind of inappropriate program. It's a shame that the NFL needed to have mischaracterized that declaration in order to justify these punishments. It's just another reason to conclude that the NFL has no evidence to justify what it has done to the players."The NFL has said the Saints' bounty program was run by Williams from 2009 through 2011. Williams has been suspended indefinitely by the league and has apologized for his actions.All four players are appealing. The NFLPA also has filed grievances with the NFL, arguing that Commissioner Roger Goodell lacked the authority to punish players for off-the-field matters that predated last August's new collective bargaining agreement, and that Goodell should not hear the appeals of the players' suspensions in the bounty matter.No other players are mentioned in Hargrove's sworn statement, which also does not contain any description of payments being pledged, made, or received.In his declaration, first published Monday by Yahoo Sports, Hargrove describes how he was called into a late February 2010 meeting with Williams and Vitt. The coaches said they had heard Hargrove might have told Minnesota Vikings player Jimmy Kennedy -- a friend and former teammate in St. Louis -- that there had been a bounty on Favre in the NFL title game near the end of the 2009 season.The statement then describes Williams saying, in obscenity-laced terms, that league officials, "have been trying to get me for years," and "if we all stay on the same page, this will blow over."It also describes Vitt reminding Hargrove that he brought him into the league with St. Louis and later brought him to the Saints -- a second chance Hargrove had sought in the NFL after being suspended for drug abuse.Hargrove's statement says that in March 2010 he met with NFL investigators, who asked him a range of questions about a bounty program in New Orleans, and that he denied knowledge of any of it, in line with the "clear directions" he had received from Williams and Vitt.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.