Updated: 8:50 p.m.
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Bengals president Mike Brown emerged from the first day of the NFL's annual spring meeting Monday enthusiastically endorsing commissioner Roger Goodell's heavy sanctions in the wake of Bountygate and says he's satisfied there is no blood money scheme at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I have asked and I have been told there is none of that going on in our building with our team," Brown said after the day's meetings broke at The Breakers. "I'm satisfied we never did any of this. The thing you have to guard against, and this goes beyond the bounty-hunting stuff, is that the mindset is part of NFL football to injure the players on the other team."
Goodell drilled Saints head coach Sean Payton with a year's suspension, suspended former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, and fined the Saints $500,000 after an NFL investigation revealed the defense paid players for hits that injured players enough that they had to leave games.
Payton's Saints and its defense coordinated by Williams faced the Bengals twice, in the '09 preseason opener and in the Saints 33-30 win at PBS in December 2010, and Brown said he never got the sense New Orleans was playing with an intent to injure players.
Goodell confirmed at his Monday news conference that the coverup upset him as much as the act.
"When this first was raised over two years ago, there were denials. They frankly were not forthright with what was happening," Goodell said. "And that continued, and it continued even through our investigation into the past several weeks. So it's a serious violation of our policy. It is something that has zero tolerance in the NFL. It's not acceptable to hide the issues, continue to violate NFL policy, put our players at risk. That's going to be dealt with very harshly."
Brown backed Goodell just as strongly.
"I think there is overwhelming support for what Roger did. Not just among the ownership, but the fans of pro football and people outside of pro football," Brown said. "Just causal observers. We have a game that requires tackling. You have to stop your opponent. That's what you're supposed to do. Not try and hurt him and this is uncalled for and it has to be called out. It has been. Everyone has received the message and it is a strong message and one that puts us on a better course for the future."
While Brown backed Goodell, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals representative to the NFL Players Association, continued to question the harshness of the penalties and remains concerned about Goodell's discipline that awaits the players.
"I understand they were wrong and I understand they lied and I appreciate more player safety," Whitworth said. "But you can't make an example out of people when you haven't changed the rules. Give them what you usually give them for doing something wrong. Four games, or if it's really bad, eight games. Then make the rule and then come down harshly."
Brown admitted he's surprised at the level of the Saints system. As a man who has been around pro football in eight decades, he said Monday he had heard whispers before.
"You would hear of talk like this. I never entirely believed it or took it to heart," Brown said. "And there is the point you can have all the bounties you want, but that doesn't mean you're going to be able to do much about doing that kind of stuff out on the field. It's talk in some sense. There's been talk of this, I would say, for 30 years or more. But I just scoffed at it. I never took it seriously. I didn't think it was really so."
The Bengals have had their share of big hitters down through the years with safeties like Tommy Casanova and David Fulcher and up to today with middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. But going back to when his father, Bengals founder Paul Brown, coached at Cleveland, Brown can't remember a bounty culture.
"We have always prided ourselves in playing hard but not in trying to injure or knock a guy out of the game," Brown said. "We haven't been a head-hunting team, we weren't a clothesline team, and we weren't a head-slap team. We weren't a hit-them-in-the-head team. We had a culture that was all out, play hard football but that didn't include injuring anyone.
"It's been part of it as far as I can remember. I know that is how my father felt. We didn't go out trying to injure someone. It's alright to hit hard to stop them but not to injure them."
Whitworth says it is a cultural issue and it starts early.
"When you think about it, it's a bounty culture and it has been since the beginning of time in football," Whitworth said. "Little kids get stickers on their helmets for big hits. We got them in college. If you got a big hit in a game, you got out of conditioning drills the next day. It exists."
Goodell and Whitworth agree on one thing: New Orleans isn't the only place it went on.
"I think it's fair to say that non-contract bonus payments have been happening throughout the league more frequently than we would like, and that is going to be discontinued," Goodell said.
Whitworth, who said he has never heard of any bounty system with the Bengals, pointed to the championship boxing-style belt the secondary passed around last year for most interceptions.
"I'm not aware of anybody pooling any money," Whitworth said. "But our DBs took pride in interceptions and they're competitive and they got together and did something. There is that kind of (incentive) mentality that's always been part of the game."
Brown is able to draw on his vast time in the NFL to put it all into context.
"You couldn't hit people in the head. (Jack) Tatum. You couldn't clothesline people. Night Train Lane. You couldn't head-slap people on the pass rush. Deacon Jones," Brown said. "You couldn't hit people in the face with your helmet. There has been this constant trend to get these players out of the game.
"In every case it was sending the message that football is not about hurting the guy; it's about defeating them, not hurting them causing injury purposefully. This is a message that has to be reinforced constantly over time. And I thought with what Roger did, he sent a very, very strong message about it. This time everybody got it and I think that's good."
Whitworth is friendly with Payton and says he's exchanged texts with him since the decision came down last week. Payton has yet to appear here at the meetings, but he's still scheduled to speak at Whitworth's foundation dinner later this week in Whitworth's native Louisiana.
"He hasn't canceled yet," Whitworth said. "I've been reading what his players have been saying about him. Drew Brees used the word father figure."
Asked if he thought the Saints were trying to hurt quarterback Carson Palmer or anybody else during the games in '09 and '10, Whitworth said, "Nope, just a blitzing defense."
Brown had no comment on the league's decision to hit the Redskins with $36 million in salary cap count and the Cowboys with $10 million over the next two seasons for excessively dumping salary into uncapped years. The two clubs have challenged the decision in arbitration.