NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in the midst of preliminary conversations with suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton about moving up the date of his reinstatement to be effective at the end of the regular season rather than sticking with the originally stated date of after the Super Bowl, according to a report Thursday morning from Ed Werder of ESPN.
Though Goodell stressed that those talks were still in their early stages, the change, if applied, would mean Payton could re-join the league and resume coaching with the Saints in less than three weeks. The Saints' last game of the season is a Dec. 30 match-up at home against the Carolina Panthers. The Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 3, ironically in New Orleans, so it would mean Payton could return more than a month before his original date of reinstatement.
Goodell said that there are talks between his office and Payton scheduled for after the holidays, so it's unlikely that there will be enough time to reinstate Payton immediately after the regular season ends for the Saints, but it still might allow him to return a few weeks early. Goodell was cautious to make any promises:
"I don't want to say he could be because, again, we are in the early stages. We are starting to talk about it."
Whenever Payton is reinstated, it's not definite he will re-join the Saints as coach next season. As Werder writes, the Dallas Cowboys could be in pursuit of him for next year, but Goodell said that whether or not Payton is a "coaching free agent" is an issue that needs to be discussed within the Saints organization, and not the league office:
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.Payton has said he plans on returning to the Saints, but his contract beyond this season remains up-in-the-air. Last month, the NFL disallowed the extension the Saints gave Payton, which would have kept him as coach through 2015. More recently, however, Goodell allowed the Saints and Payton to resume contract negotiations.