The status of the contract extension suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton agreed to in September 2011 has come into question, according to multiple media reports.
NFL.com and NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi confirmed Sunday that the league voided Payton’s contract extension because of concerns about the language in it. The Saints and NFL officials discussed the issue many times, but never found a resolution.
Now, Payton’s future with the Saints remains unclear and only NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can decide on it, according to an NFL.com report. ESPN first reported about the contract complications early Sunday morning.
Payton’s contract now is scheduled to expire in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically be a coaching free agent after this season.
A source familiar with how the NFL operates in these situations cast doubt to NFL.com and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on whether Payton would be a free agent. Lombardi also reported that many people in the league believe Payton’s contract will carry over — or “toll” — into the 2013 season.
When a player is suspended, his contract essentially is pushed back a year. The suspended year doesn’t count. It’s believed the same logic will apply here — Payton is suspended for the season for his role in the Saints’ alleged bounty scheme, meaning he would be under contract through 2013. Goodell has the power to rule on the contract, Lombardi said.
“Our office has made no determination on Sean Payton’s contract status with the Saints for next year,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement given to Rapoport. “All contracts between clubs and their employees must be approved by the commissioner, and we do not comment on specific terms of individual contracts. Any comment regarding the matter should come from Coach Payton and the Saints.”
While confirming the contract problem, Payton told Fox Sports Insider and NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer that “I absolutely plan on being a New Orleans Saint.”
In its report, ESPN noted that Payton is expected to become the NFL’s most sought-after head coach after this season and there already is speculation in league circles that he could wind up returning to the Dallas Cowboys, whom he worked for as an assistant head coach from 2003-05.
As recently as March, when Payton was visiting NFL offices to appeal his yearlong suspension in the bounty scandal, he asked Goodell for the status of his contract extension and was told it was unsatisfactory as it initially was constituted, sources said.
At issue in the contract was one specific clause that would have enabled Payton to walk away from the deal if General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended, fired or left the Saints, sources said.
The league believed that any such language in Payton’s contract would set a bad precedent for other coaching contracts and rejected the deal well before Loomis was suspended for the first eight games this season for his part in the bounty scandal.
Dating to roughly the start of this year, the two sides engaged in numerous subsequent conversations to try to resolve the issue but never did.
In the interim, the league has granted Payton permission to work for Saints owner Tom Benson’s NBA New Orleans Hornets, and the suspended head coach has been doing some spot work there to earn income.
Even though Payton is a close friend of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Payton’s family lives in the Dallas area, some believe Payton’s strong relationship with Benson will be enough to keep him in New Orleans long term.
But others are more skeptical, knowing that the suspended coach has undergone some personal changes in his life that have included going through a divorce and spending plenty of time in Dallas. He bought a house in the city early last year.
When Benson initially announced last year the extension for Payton that never got league approval, he said: “I am very pleased to announce this contract extension today for Sean that will run through the 2015 season. Our goal is to continue to build a tradition of winning here in New Orleans and Sean represents that tradition.”
Attempts To reach a spokesman for the Saints and Goodell were unsuccessful Sunday.