Ex-Saracens skipper Kyran Bracken says the 35-point deduction and £5.36m fine faced by the club for breaching salary cap rules are “very unfair”.
The Premiership champions will appeal against the penalty, which comes after an investigation into business partnerships between chairman Nigel Wray and some of the club’s players.
European champions Saracens described the sanctions as “heavy-handed”.
“I was shocked, dismayed, disappointed as an ex-Saracen,” said Bracken.
The former England scrum-half, 44, told BBC Sport: “It seems very, very harsh when you compare it to say, out and out cheating that may, or has, been done.
“With Harlequins and bloodgate – where players went on the pitch with capsules – they got a £260,000 fine and no points deduction, yet for Saracens it’s 35 points and over £5m fine, it just feels disproportionate.”
Bracken played more than 200 times for Saracens over 10 years, until his retirement in 2006.
The London club’s punishments have been suspended until the outcome of the appeal, leaving Sarries fourth in the table.
“The fact is if someone’s out and out cheating then that’s wrong and they need to be punished, but it feels like this is more of a technicality and it doesn’t feel fair,” Bracken added.
“If you were to look at it in the cold light of day, have a look why they’re really successful – they’re really successful because they invest very heavily in their academy.
“They haven’t bought that success, they’ve nurtured their own players.”
Fellow Premiership side Worcester Warriors – who say they are “proud” to adhere to the salary cap – backed the league for taking action against Saracens.
Sarries previously claimed they “readily comply” with salary cap rules and were able to spend above the £7m cap because of the high proportion – almost 60% – of home-grown players in their squad.
“The salary cap regulations are there for good reasons. They ensure the financial sustainability of clubs and control inflationary pressures as well as maintaining a competitive Premiership,” Warriors said a statement.
“The salary cap regulations were unanimously agreed by all clubs so everyone is aware of their obligations to comply with them and of the potential consequences should they breach them.”