National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has begun reinstatement talks with suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton after an arbitration ruling overturned player discipline in the team’s bounty case.
Payton was suspended for the 2012 season after the league said it discovered a performance pool in which Saints players were rewarded financially for injuring opponents. He isn’t eligible to return until after the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
Goodell told reporters yesterday following league meetings in Dallas that he and Payton had started discussions and that no decision had been made regarding whether the coach will be allowed to return to the team at an earlier date.
“We are in the early stages,” Goodell said. “We are starting to talk about it.”
Paul Tagliabue, Goodell’s predecessor as commissioner who was asked to hear an appeal of player punishments, vacated suspensions of four current and former Saints in the bounty program two days ago. While Tagliabue concluded that three of the players engaged in detrimental conduct, he placed the onus on the Saints’ front office and coaches for allowing the program to continue and for obstructing the NFL’s investigation.
“This entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization,” Tagliabue said in a statement explaining his ruling, which had no bearing on coach suspensions.
Payton, 48, is lobbying to return to the team immediately after the end of the regular season, ESPN reported today citing an identified person close to the coach. The Saints (5-8) have lost three consecutive games and probably won’t make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis already served an eight-game suspension, and assistant Joe Vitt is serving as interim coach after returning from a six-game ban. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely.
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