Essentially, the Saints told Goodell: "It's our universe" and to go away.
Payton and the Saints now will pay the price for this hubris.
The same arrogance which helped propel Payton and the Saints to unprecedented heights on the field the past six years helped undercut them off of it. They became corrupted by their own perceived omnipotence, and their greatest strength became their most debilitating weakness.
"A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious," Goodell said in a damning report released by the league Wednesday. "When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game."
But the cover-up by the team's front office disrespected Goodell and his seat of power. From the outset of the investigation, the Saints acted with blatant disregard for the NFL office.
The investigation also exposed one of the best-kept secrets of Payton's tenure: His dysfunctional relationship with Williams. The two maintained a professional working relationship, but Payton never trusted his defensive coordinator. That was clear in the NFL report, which said one of Vitt's primary roles "was to monitor the activity of Coach Williams. This was based on the direction of Coach Payton, who apparently had less than full confidence in Coach Williams."
If the reports are true that the Saints' front office tried to paint Williams as a rogue vigilante to the league office during the investigation, you can rest assured Williams did likewise to them behind closed doors.