Questions about where Sean Payton will coach in the future can finally come to an end.
The New Orleans Saints and Payton, currently the lone remaining member of the organization still serving punishment related to the NFL’s "Bountygate" controversy, have agreed in principle to a contract extension, FOXSports.com has learned.
Rumors had run rampant that Payton would target the Dallas job this offseason if current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was fired after the season. But as reported this past weekend on FOX NFL Sunday, Garrett will be returning to coach the Cowboys in 2013.
Payton is now expected to man the Saints’ sideline for several years, although details of the deal are not yet available.
Though his 2011 contract extension was voided as a result of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s landmark one-year suspension because of the team’s alleged cash-for-hits bounty program, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis still made it a top priority to retain Payton long term.
Payton, hired by the Saints in 2006, has compiled a 62-34 record in six seasons. New Orleans has won the NFC South title three times during his tenure, including a victory in Super Bowl XLV in 2010.
This season began under the Bountygate cloud, with Goodell slapping the Saints with severe penalties, the most stunning of which was the one-season ban levied against Payton. In addition to Payton’s suspension, Loomis got eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games before returning to serve in the interim head coaching role he assumed when Payton’s suspension began in the offseason. While Vitt was away, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer stepped in as interim to the interim head coach.
Two defensive captains also were punished initially. But linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith undertook a lengthy legal battle that overturned their suspensions, which otherwise would have sidelined Vilma for a full year and Smith for four games.
Amid the distractions and while rotating coaches and players to fill the void, the Saints struggled to start the season, losing their first four games. New Orleans has rallied to one game within .500 at 7-8, but will see its three-year streak of 10-win seasons snapped and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.