Specific expiration date of Payton contract could become an issue

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Setting aside for now the question of whether the one-year suspension served by Saints coach Sean Payton will push the final year of his contract from 2012 to 2013, a bigger question arises regarding the moment at which Payton’s contract will expire, if 2012 indeed becomes the final year of his contract.

The NFL advises that there is no standard formula promulgated by the league regarding the expiration of coaching contracts, making it an issue resolved case-by-case between teams and the coaches.  Some coaching contracts end after the Super Bowl.  Some last until the end of February.

Rarely is the precise timing ever an issue, since coaches either get extensions or they get fired long before the day on which the contract would have otherwise evaporated.

In Payton’s case, he would not be free to talk to any other team until his contract with the Saints expires, even if he is reinstated before the Super Bowl.

While this question becomes pertinent only if the Saints insist on Payton honoring his contract to the letter, it gives the franchise a tool for painting Payton into a corner, preventing him from talking to any other teams — and thus forcing those teams to look elsewhere for new coaches — into early February or, possibly, into early March.

Or, in theory, perhaps even later. It all comes down to the specific date when Payton’s contract ends. For now, that’s not known.

But now that we’ve framed up the issue, it likely will be.  Soon.