Regardless of the allure the Dallas Cowboys or some other franchises might have for a coach a successful who commands top dollar, Drew Brees cannot envision Sean Payton coaching anywhere but New Orleans next season.
Brees said he does not believe money is what motivates Payton as much as the pride he takes in what he has built with the Saints, and the desire to parlay his accomplishments in New Orleans into more championships when he is re-instated following his one-season suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty probe.
"I'd be shocked if he wasn't here next year," Brees said after practice on Wednesday. "I have not even thought for a second that he wouldn't be here, honestly. Not even thought for a second."
Payton's contract status has been in doubt, at least publicly, since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed last month that the league had a problem with certain language in Payton's 2011 extension, which would have run through 2015. The clause in question allowed Payton to opt out early if general manager Mickey Loomis left the club for any reason.
Because Payton was a top offensive assistant in Dallas from 2003 to 2005 and has a good relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and because Payton's children live in the Dallas area, there has been widespread speculation that Payton could return to the Cowboys should current coach Jason Garrett be fired after this season.
Payton, suspended from last April through next February's Super Bowl, has not commented on his contract situation, and neither has his agent, Don Yee.
The terms of Payton's suspension also prevent him from talking with any NFL employee - with limited and pre-approved exceptions - and Brees said he has not been able to talk to Payton about next season.
Brees said he would be highly skeptical of any reports of Payton's departure from New Orleans until he hears it from the coach himself, particularly if those reports cite only anonymous "sources."
"We also know how the whole sources thing works, don't we?" Brees said. "Sources can pretty much say whatever you want them to say because you never really have to be accountable for it. Like I said, I'm not worried."
Brees' teammates largely echoed their quarterback's sentiments.
"What everybody thinks is that Sean will be back," Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "For right now, Sean Payton is our head coach. Just like a player has a contract that has to work out, there's going to be negotiations and that whole situation will play out."
This Sunday the Saints play in Dallas, where Garrett has been unable to avoid questions about his own future and the Payton speculation, despite the fact that the Cowboys are riding a five-game winning streak that has placed them firmly in playoff contention after a shaky 3-5 start.
"Certainly, as coaches and individuals, we have to live" with job uncertainty and speculation, Garrett said. "There is always a lot of stuff going on on the periphery."
"Sean is a great coach and good friend of mine. He has done a great job in this league for a long time," Garrett added. "I'm focused on doing my job as well as I can."
If Dallas can beat New Orleans this week and close out with a victory over the Redskins, the Cowboys would finish 10-6 and would be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, which might make it harder to for Jones to justify jettisoning Garrett. Jones has recently expressed confidence in Garrett in any event and credited him with how he has shepherded the team through the recent death of Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown in an auto accident.
"He's just a great communicator with his players and his colleagues," Jones said of Garrett. "I've seen in him that in trying circumstances that he can do good things. My hat's off and I give him a lot of credit for how we're playing right now."
Loomis and Saints owner Tom Benson could end the uncertainty by getting Payton locked into a new and perhaps more lucrative extension than the more than $6 million annually Payton would have earned had his 2011 deal gone through. And it remains to be seen whether they'll get a deal done before the league year ends a few weeks after the Super Bowl.
In the meantime, most Saints players said they'd spend their time worried about how to beat Dallas and Carolina in New Orleans' last two games.
"We would love to have Sean back, but that's out of our hands," running back Pierre Thomas said. "That's between Mickey, Mr. Benson, and him. That's not between us. We can't have any say-so in it."