Saints head coach Sean Payton has agreed to a five-year contact extension that will make him the highest paid head coach in the NFL, with a salary exceeding $8 million annually.
As if the year for the Saints couldn't get any worse, November 2012 saw a report emerge that suspended Payton's 2011 contract extension had been voided by the NFL, essentially making Payton a coaching free agent when he emerges from suspension after the Super Bowl. That, compounded by long-brewing rumors of interest from Payton's city of residence Dallas, had Saints fans on edge about the controversial, edgy coach that had turned the franchise around.
Payton, who is among the longest-tenured coaches in the league already, will apparently be under contract with the Saints through 2017.
The Saints were given dispensation from the NFL to speak with Payton about contract matters - even though they were not allowed to discuss football matters.
"I am pleased that Sean Payton will be our head coach for a long time," Saints owner Tom Benson said in an official statement. "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 return of the exiled head coach comes in a dark time for the franchise, who are facing the fast closing of a window. The 2012 Saints will either be the worst or nearly the worst defense in NFL history. The team will be $16 million over the salary cap and its stalwart left tackle is set to hit free agency. That cap crunch will likely result in the gutting of the defense - including long-time performers Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle and Roman Harper.
Payton's assistant coaching staff may be pillaged by half a dozen coaching openings around the league, most notably offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who guided the offense to a top three performance in Payton's absence.
The reputation of the Saints franchise has also been tarnished by the bounty scandal and coverup that got Payton and many others suspended, a Vicodin stealing scandal, and a Superdome wiretapping scandal. The franchise was scolded by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue's report on the bounty investigation, and the team is still short one second round draft pick in this April's NFL Draft as punishment.