In response to a report from Adam Schefter that Saints coach Sean Payton will be a free agent in 2013, the NFL says, in essence, “Not so fast, my friend.”
The league’s official statement, via Albert Breer of NFL Network, takes no position on Payton’s status beyond 2012.
“Our office has made no determination on Sean Payton’s contract status with the Saints for next year,” the league told Breer. “All contracts between clubs and their employees must be approved by the Commissioner, and we do not comment on specific terms of individual contracts.”
Schefter reported that, at some point within the past year, the league office rejected the extension signed by Payton in September 2011. That makes 2012 the last year of his contract.
But with Payton suspended for all of 2012, the Saints could take the position that his contract is tolled. Since the final decision on any contract-related disputes comes from Commissioner Roger Goodell, and given that Goodell likely wouldn’t reach a decision that will be deemed to benefit Payton, Goodell would surely be inclined to keep Payton in place.
Making Payton a free agent in 2013 would surely benefit Payton, either by giving him more leverage in contract talks with the Saints or allowing him to walk away from New Orleans.
Unless, of course, there’s collusion among his potential suitors to not pursue him.
With all the heat Goodell has taken over suspending Payton, does anyone really think Goodell would let Payton walk away under circumstances that would make Saints fans even more angry at Goodell and the league office?
Regardless of the contractual niceties and things folks close to the situation believe or don’t believe, it would be a major surprise to see the league office let Payton leave — unless the Saints make it clear that they either don’t want him back or that they support his desire to leave if he thinks it’s time for a change.
Or, as mentioned above, unless there’s collusion among his potential suitors.