On Nov. 4, New Orleans Saints fans woke up to the headline "NFL voids Saints' Payton contract extension." The ESPN.com story said Saints coach Sean Payton would be a free agent at the end of the season. Huh? Talk about coming out of nowhere. How did this happen?
Andrew Brandt, former Green Bay Packers vice president and National Football League player agent, wrote that the NFL voided the contract extension due to a clause that says Payton could become a free agent if general manager Mickey Loomis were to exit either voluntarily or involuntarily by a suspension or firing.
Way more questions than answers exist. How does it take 14 months — from September 2011 to November 2012 — to figure out a contract isn't valid? Why is that clause in there? Did Loomis and Payton suspect trouble could be on the horizon? Remember: the NFL began its bounty investigation in 2010. Did Loomis put that in as a favor to Payton because he thought that if the bounty situation came to light, it could end his time in New Orleans?
"I absolutely expect Sean to be our coach next year and going forward," Loomis told The Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett last week. "These contract issues will be resolved."
That's great. But why haven't they already been resolved? If a deal was already agreed upon, why not take out the clause or reword it to the NFL's approval? Throw in Payton's affinity for Dallas (and his home there) and it's easy to see why some in the fan base were in all-out panic. It's long been speculated around the league that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would love to have Payton call Cowboys Stadium home. And with Dallas struggling this season ...
Bottom line is that for Sean Payton to coach the Saints next season, he and the team will have to agree on a new deal or the NFL could choose to "toll" him for a season — meaning Payton would have to coach the final year of his old contract prior to signing the extension.
The difference that Payton makes on the Saints is clear. Without question, he'll be highly sought after, but the Cowboys and the Saints are really the only natural homes for him. So it could be a bidding war for his services.
That would be a joke. Saints owner Tom Benson will likely open up his checkbook to keep Payton — but he shouldn't have to. Payton is the head coach and knows about everything that goes on in the Saints office and on the field. I know fans love him — and I'm not talking about his coaching ability. He's a brilliant coach. The man who inspired fans to wear "Free Payton" shirts should pay back the loyalty shown by Benson, the fans and the city. The mere thought that Payton likely will get a raise out of this — and possibly a big raise — is a travesty.
It shouldn't have come to this. If the team stopped whatever it was they were doing back when the NFL first warned them about it, there wouldn't have been a bounty investigation.
The loss of Payton isn't just the loss of a coach. His philosophy is the entire base of how the organization operates. "Of course there's a scare when immediately it comes out and says Sean Payton's a free agent and he has the ability to go wherever he wants. It seems like that story was blown out of proportion," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said last Wednesday. "My focus is on our team and winning, and I think that's what Sean would want us to do."
This whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If a clause is the reason a contract doesn't exist, fix it. If it's something more than that, say so.
So many questions with so few answers — but one question troubles me the most: Who is Sean Payton, really?
We're about to find out.