Clock keeps ticking on Sean Payton, Saints

AP

The Saints now have 12 weeks and two days to nail down a new contract with Saints coach Sean Payton before he potentially becomes a free agent.

(How ’bout them Cowboys?)

Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has provided an update on the situation that could end up being misconstrued if not read carefully.  Triplette’s item contains no hard news; otherwise, it wouldn’t have been subsumed within a broader collection of pre-weekend takes.

Indeed, Triplett’s item is analysis, not news.  And that’s fine.  But let’s not assume that Triplett’s potentially spot-on analysis is anything other than potentially spot-on analysis.

Triplett writes that Payton “probably won’t make an immediate decision on whether or not to sign a new contract with the Saints, since he’ll want to keep his options open.”  Likewise, Triplette explains that “the Saints probably won’t push too forcefully for Payton to either sign a new deal or honor his previous agreement that was signed but rejected by the NFL,” and that “[i]f Payton wanted to make a move for family reasons, the Saints likely wouldn’t want to force him to stay against his will.”

Triplett’s read on the situation mirrors Peter King’s explanation from the most recent Football Night in America.  King explained that Payton’s divorce has turned contentious, that custody issues are emerging, and that Payton most likely won’t stray beyond the Dallas-New Orleans corridor.

It all adds up to a potential tug-o-war between the Saints and the Cowboys over Payton.  While the Saints have dibs on doing a deal with Payton, Payton’s leverage won’t be maximized until we know whether the Cowboys job is open after the season ends, and whether the Saints feel compelled to overpay for Payton based on the outcome of a season without him.

Though fans surely want to see this one end sooner rather than later, the Saints have shown in the past a willingness to play things out, even if it hurts them in the long run.  But if the Saints apply the same stubbornness they demonstrated during the Drew Brees negotiations, Payton potentially will have the viable Door No. 2 that Brees didn’t.

Payton’s leverage evaporates if the Cowboys make it to the playoffs.  And so Saints fans may have divided loyalties when the two teams get together in Texas two days before Christmas:  Cheer for the Saints and risk losing Payton permanently, or pull for the Cowpokes even if it means no postseason for the Saints in 2012.