Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints have agreed in principle to a contract extension keeping him with the team after his season-long suspension comes to a close.
And, listening to team owner Tom Benson, you’d think there was little cause for concern.
“I never had any doubt about it,” Benson said Friday night while watching the Hornets at the New Orleans Arena. “You know, I was the only one he could talk to and he and I talked once a week and I always felt very good about it.”
Payton, who also was at the New Orleans Arena, declined to comment as he moved to a luxury suite in the building.
The Saints officially announced the move with a Saturday morning email, one in which Benson said, "Now we can focus our attention on building on the winning tradition with the Saints that Sean has played such a large role in."
The move, meanwhile, was met with excitement on social media by both players and fans.
Punter Thomas Morstead immediately tweeted, “BOOM HE’S BACK!!!!,” attaching a picture from a TV broadcast announcing the breaking news.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton, meanwhile, has yet to play with for Payton, having signed as a free agent this offseason. Still, he’s excited about the extension.
“I will finish my contract with one of the top coaches in the game and look forward to winning a championship with him at the helm,” Lofton said in a text message.
FOXSports’ Jay Glazer first reported the agreement. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the terms of the new contract may be similar to the original November 2011 extension which was rejected by the NFL because of certain language in it.
The league still has to approve the contract. Friday night, a league source was unaware of that the Saints and Payton had come to an agreement.
The news comes before what is traditionally known as Black Monday, the first day after the final regular season games. Franchises begin releasing coaches, opening up jobs throughout the league.
There had been speculation that Payton could have gone to Dallas had all the stars lined up. While Jason Garrett is still the coach there and owner Jerry Jones professed his faith in him, a loss on Sunday knocks the Cowboys out of the playoffs. If Payton had been available, there was a belief that Jones might try to lure him to Dallas.
Friday’s early evening news, however, likely spreads joy through a fanbase hit hard by this past year’s bounty investigation and 7-8 campaign.
Payton was given a year-long suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for not stopping what the league termed a three-year bounty program administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Payton appealed, but to no avail. He has not been allowed to have any contact with anyone affiliated with the NFL in the months since and had to receive special approval from Goodell when quarterback Drew Brees broke the NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass in October.
By agreeing in principle, the Saints and Payton have set in motion the first step in moving past the sordid affair. Goodell still has to reinstate Payton, but that’s seen as a formality at this point.
And that's good news, cornerback Jabari Greer said.
"I, like so many of my teammates are, am excited by the news of an extension for Sean. Having him back will be like a second Christmas; only instead of unwrapping presents, we look forward to unwrapping championships!" Greer said.
Payton guided the Saints to their first-ever NFC championship game in 2006. Three seasons later, he helped lead New Orleans back to the conference title game, where it beat Minnesota, earning the franchise's first-ever berth in the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, New Orleans beat Indianapolis, capturing its first league title.