Questions arise about Payton's future with Saints; NFL takes issue with contract extension
NEW ORLEANS – Dismissing speculation that Sean Payton may leave New Orleans because of a glitch in his contract, Drew Brees has no doubt he'll be reunited with the suspended Saints coach in 2013.
"I absolutely believe he'll be back," Brees said Monday night after guiding the Saints to a 28-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Payton was suspended for the season by the NFL for his role in the bounty scandal. The league has taken issue with a clause in the contract extension he agreed to more than a year ago, which was to have kept him in New Orleans through 2015.
"I haven't seen the report or heard the report," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "I don't want to have any comment, but let me say this: This team loves Sean, and Sean loves this team. This city loves Sean, and Sean loves this city. I think that's a tough combination to beat."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Sunday he does not know if Payton might become a coaching free agent after the season.
"The one contract that they sent in to us ... we told them what the issue was," Goodell said. "Now it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them."
Payton's agent, Don Yee, did not return a message seeking comment.
According to ESPN, the league objected to Payton being allowed to nix the deal if general manager Mickey Loomis was fired, suspended or left the organization for any reason. Loomis received an eight-game suspension for his involvement in the bounty case and is eligible to return after the Saints (3-5) beat the Eagles.
Payton can return next season, but some wonder if he might be interested in moving to the struggling Dallas Cowboys if he has that option.
The Cowboys (3-5) have been a major disappointment, with a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday only turning up the heat on third-year coach Jason Garrett.
Payton was an assistant head coach with the Cowboys before he took over the Saints in 2006. He has a 67-37 record, including four playoff appearances and New Orleans' first Super Bowl championship, but he kept alive speculation that he might someday return to Dallas by keeping a home in that city.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked about the possibility of Payton coaching the Cowboys if he's available.
"I have no idea," he said. "I have no understanding about anything to do with his or the Saints' business or their contracts. I don't have any — that was news to me."
Jones insisted that he hasn't given up on Garrett, who has a record of 16-16 over three seasons and has yet to lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.
"I have a lot of faith in Jason," Jones said. "Jason's future is ahead of him. I know how hard he works. I like his philosophy, so I've got a lot of confidence, a lot of faith. One of the brightest spots I see is our head coaching and our coaching in the future."
New Orleans safety Roman Harper sees no reason for Payton to leave New Orleans, especially after being linked to the bounty case.
"Why would he not come back? He's got something to prove," Harper said. "There's nothing like having a man with a chip on his shoulder. This is just another way the NFL is trying to get at us. We just have to keep our minds on things we can control, and that's playing football."
But linebacker Scott Shanle sounded more concerned.
"We'd be crazy if we said we weren't worried about it, but at the same time that's out of our control," he said. "We can't do anything about it. We can't let that story and that development sidetrack us from what we're trying to do."
It certainly was a topic before the game, but the Saints quickly brushed it aside. For now, they're worried about saving this season.
"Some of us guys talked about it a little bit, but nothing too serious because we didn't understand what the language is in the contract," Shanle said. "It seemed like it was changing minute by minute. Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot of discussion about it within the team."
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Associated Press writer George Henry in Atlanta and Associated Press freelance writer Guerry Smith in New Orleans contributed to this report.