What exactly could this early return mean for both the NFL and, more specifically, commissioner Roger Goodell?
What it means for the NFL
Allowing Payton to rejoin the Saints early would not seem to have a huge impact on the league at first glance, but dig a little deeper here.
New Orleans has missed out on a full season with its head coach and he has lost the ability to communicate with younger players on this roster. While veterans like Drew Brees and Jonathan Vilma know the system and know how Payton does business, rookies such as Akiem Hicks have never been able to see how he operates.
Development of young talent is crucial to success in the NFL and Payton has missed out on several months of it. If he is allowed back early, it would benefit the Saints' preparation for the 2013 season.
Everyone knows the Saints have the talent to compete next season with Payton at the helm, and a month or two of extra time with his team can only quicken their pursuit of contender status once again.
That is, of course, assuming that Payton returns to the Saints, which is not guaranteed.
Let's first look at this tweet from Werder:
Roger Goodell says league office has communicated with Sean Payton regarding reinstatement, and won't eliminate happening before SB #saints— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 13, 2012
In Werder's full article, he follows that tweet up by saying the following:
There is also the possibility that Payton might not be committed to coaching the Saints and could be pursued by a team such as the Dallas Cowboys if owner and general manager Jerry Jones fires coach Jason Garrett.
By all accounts, Payton is fair game at this point. Returning to the Saints sooner would be great for New Orleans development heading into 2013, but the prospect of Payton changing allegiances is a very real possibility.
What it means for Roger Goodell
After former commissioner Paul Tagliabue reversed Goodell's suspensions of the Saints players, he is in dire need of some good publicity at the moment.
What better way to do that than to reinstate Payton and put the entire Bountygate episode behind him? Some people will justifiably question the timing of it all, including the fact that this was not discussed until New Orleans had virtually no shot at making the playoffs.
However, Goodell is simply trying to save face and this move makes sense (if it comes to fruition).
He can look like he has realized some of his mistakes and is not quite the egregious dictator he is made out to be. There is no chance that New Orleans heads to the postseason or plays in the Super Bowl inside the Superdome, so he really has nothing to lose here.
It will take many more gestures of goodwill before Goodell can fix his public image and remove the negative stigma surrounding him (if he can do it at all), but reinstating Payton can do nothing except help his case.