Head coach Sean Payton sat out the entire 2012 season, suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his part in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-injury bounty program that spanned three seasons from 2009 to 2011.
Payton won’t miss one second of preparation time for the 2013 season. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported Friday that the Saints and Payton had agreed in principle to a new deal:
I'm reporting the Saints and Sean Payton have "agreed in principle" to a new contract extension to remain head coach of the Saints— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) December 29, 2012
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported shortly thereafter that Payton’s new deal was a five-year contract. The financial terms were undisclosed.
Sean Payton's agreement with the Saints is for five years.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 29, 2012
When Payton was suspended, he was still under contract with the Saints. However, he had a clause in that contract that allowed him to leave if general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended or left the franchise. The NFL voided that contract because Loomis was one of the members of the staff, along with Payton, punished and suspended by the league.
In November, the NFL gave the Saints and Payton permission to talk about a new contract. Now, seven weeks later, the new deal is in place. And there won’t be a bigger, more important piece to the New Orleans puzzle for 2013 added in the offseason.
The Saints floundered through two portions of their 2012 season. With interim-interim head coach Aaron Kromer at the helm, New Orleans dropped its first four games of the year.
The team turned things around a bit when Joe Vitt returned from his suspension and took over as interim head coach. However, the Saints still suffered through a three-game losing streak under Vitt.
There were also times when quarterback Drew Brees was less than spectacular without Payton talking in his ear.
In Week 1, Brees completed just 46.2 percent of his passes. He’d only had two worse performances during his 12-year career in the NFL.
One was with the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 19, 2004, where he completed just 42.1 percent of his passes. The worst was on Dec. 24, 2006, when he set his career low at a 40.6 percent completion rate.
Brees also set a career high with five interceptions in his Week 13 performance against the Atlanta Falcons. Entering the final week of play in 2012, Brees has thrown 18 picks. His only season with more interceptions was 2010, when he threw 22.
His offensive numbers were still good. He’s thrown 39 touchdown passes, and with 219 yards Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he’ll reach the 5,000-yard plateau. But he’s never quite been in sync this season without Payton.
How many more games would New Orleans have won in 2012 had Sean Payton been the head coach?
Payton was always the offensive mastermind, the only person in the city of New Orleans who understood what the Saints were trying to do on offense better than Brees.
Now, once the Super Bowl concludes and Payton’s suspension is lifted, he’ll be able to reunite with the Saints and get to work putting affairs back in order.
On paper, this Saints roster has all the talent of a playoff team. New Orleans just underperformed in 2012. The team's 7-8 record is glaring proof of that.
How many wins is Payton worth? That question won’t be answered until the end of the 2013 season. The Saints averaged 10.3 wins per season under Payton from 2006 to 2011. If the Saints had been able to do that in 2012, they’d be in the playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if Payton leads New Orleans to more than 10 wins in 2013. He’s just that valuable to the organization.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.