New Orleans NFL and NBA owner Tom Benson sat in his courtside seats for Friday night’s Hornets game, joined by the Archbishop of New Orleans, and eventually, the head Saint.
Before the game ended, Sean Payton joined his boss after agreeing in principle to a new deal with the Saints.
Terms of the contract weren’t revealed, but Benson joked that it was wrapped up long ago, and that he was never concerned about losing him.
“He’s always been our head coach,” Benson said, via Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I never had any doubt about that. . . .
“He’s going to have an extension on it, so that’s going to be a little bit better. … Sean and I, I was the only one he could talk to and he and I talked once a week.”
“We worked a long time on it and everything worked out, and I’ll leave it at that,” Payton said after the game. “And we’ll leave it at that.”
There are still significant questions to be answered about the timeline (his one-year suspension ends after the Super Bowl), but the Saints can at least go into the offseason assured their leader will be back.
While the league-imposed suspension lasts another calendar month, getting Payton under contract prior to the end of the season carried a symbolic weight.
As teams begin firing coaches Monday, having a potential free agent dangling would have been a blow to a team that suffered through a disappointing season and needs significant work.
But they’ve also been through similar down-to-the-wire negotiations, such as this summer’s with quarterback Drew Brees.
Maybe that’s why Brees was so confident.
“Very happy that it is official,” Brees told Holder via text. “Never had any doubts though.”
We found out this year how much Payton meant to the Saints, and we’ll find out over the course of the next year whether he’s worth the money they paid, which was expected to make him the highest-paid coach in the league.