The NFL handed down sweeping and unprecedented punishment Wednesday for bounties paid out on big hits, suspending New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton without pay for next season and indefinitely banning the team's former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who now works for the St. Louis Rams.

Payton is the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason. He is accused of trying to cover up a system of extra cash payouts that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called "particularly unusual and egregious" and "totally unacceptable."

"We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it."

According to the league, Payton ignored instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren't being paid. The league also chastised him for choosing to "falsely deny that the program existed," and for attempting to "encourage the false denials by instructing assistants to 'make sure our ducks are in a row.' "

Goodell also banned Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season, and assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.

In addition, Goodell fined the Saints $500,000 and took away their second-round draft picks this year and next.

After the NFL first made its investigation public on March 2, Williams admitted to -- and apologized for -- running the program while in charge of the Saints' defense from 2009-11. He was hired by the Rams in January.

Goodell will review Williams' status after the upcoming season and decide whether he can return to the league.
Source: ESPN.com

K.O.

Has Brees re-signed yet?
Saints quarterback Drew Brees reacted quickly to the news on Twitter, writing: "I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor ... I need to hear an explanation for this punishment."