After seeing firsthand how Roger Goodell "crippled" the Saints' organization with his penalties for the Bountygate scandal, former New Orleans and current Panthers safety Roman Harper said he didn't expect the NFL commissioner to come down hard on the Patriots for Deflategate.
So he was surprised by Goodell's decision this week to uphold his four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady for his role in the ball-deflating scandal stemming from last season's AFC championship game.
"We got hammered," said Harper, who played for the Saints when they were found to have run a pay-for-injuries incentive program from 2009-11.
Harper said Goodell tried to make an example of the Saints, whose coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, general manager Mickey Loomis received an eight-game suspension, Joe Vitt, another defensive coach, was suspended six.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Four Saints players also were suspended, but later had the penalties overturned.
Harper said he thought Goodell would go easier on Brady, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.
"I didn't think they would make Tom sit out four games because of who he is and what he is for the NFL. I think the NFL always tries to put itself first and I know what Tom Brady brings to the NFL," Harper said.
"I never thought the Patriots or Kraft would get anything, or Belichick. I didn't think they were trying to hammer them down like that. We were the first time Roger Goodell tried to set a precedent on us and he may have overstepped, and I think he realized that."
Harper believes Goodell was tough on the Saints in his 2012 ruling in part because New Orleans was hosting the Super Bowl that season, and he didn't want them in it.
"It's just amazing to me," Harper said. "They suspended the head coach for a whole year, defensive coach (six) games, GM eight games, Gregg Williams gone. Our captain (Jonathan Vilma), gone for a year, other guys four to eight games. You almost crippled us. It was almost like the death penalty in college. You take all of your head figures and just throw them to the side."