Sean Payton may be suspended for the entire NFL season and banned from contact with his players and coaches on the New Orleans Saints, but it's now possible his separation from the team could be even more permanent than that.
UPDATE: Sunday, November 4 at 10:55 p.m. ET by Timothy Rapp
The league office has not yet verified that Payton's contract will be voided following the 2012 season, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
"Our office has made no determination on Sean Payton's contract status with the Saints for next year," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement given to [NFL.com's Ian Rapoport]. "All contracts between clubs and their employees must be approved by the commissioner, and we do not comment on specific terms of individual contracts. Any comment regarding the matter should come from Coach Payton and the Saints."
So, the news of Payton's possible free agency is far from official at this point. Stay tuned.
---End of Update---
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, his contract will be voided after this season:
Within the past year, the multiyear contract extension the Saints announced for Sean Payton in September 2011 was voided by the NFL, making the suspended head coach a free agent after this season and casting questions on how long he will remain in New Orleans, according to league sources.
Payton is expected to become the NFL's most sought-after head coach after this season and there already is speculation in league circles that he could wind up returning to Dallas, where he worked as the assistant head coach from 2003 to 2005, during which time the Cowboys brought in quarterback Tony Romo, who attended the same college, Eastern Illinois, as Payton.
As Schefter notes, one of the issues in regard to that contract extension was a stipulation that Payton nix the extension if general manager Mickey Loomis was "suspended, fired or left the New Orleans organization."
Of course, it's always possible that Payton would simply look to renegotiate a new extension with the Saints after this season. His departure would not be a popular loss in New Orleans.
But as Schefter reports, he would be widely courted around NFL circles. Beyond the Cowboys, one would imagine he might receive overtures from the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Alongside quarterback Drew Brees, Payton was not only a positive force in the community after Hurricane Katrina, he's also led the Saints to the organization's most successful period. He's led the team to the postseason four times since taking over as coach in 2006, including a 2009 Super Bowl championship.
He won't be lost without a fight in New Orleans.
It's another conundrum for a Saints team that finds itself 2-5 after a contentious offseason due to the bounty scandal. It would seem the aftermath of that scandal may also now include the team permanently losing its head coach.
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