New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton would have to appeal to Roger Goodell if they can't agree on Payton's contract status
If the New Orleans Saints and Coach Sean Payton can't agree on whether he is allowed to become a free agent at the end of this season, one or both of them would have to appeal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the final decision. So far, they apparently haven't filed such a request for arbitration, which is why Payton's contract status for 2013 remains an open question.
The status of Sean Payton's contract with the New Orleans Saints may have to be decided by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
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Outside observers such as NFL Coaches Association executive director David Cornwell and Tulane sports law expert Gabe Feldman helped to explain that process Tuesday. And a league source confirmed that such a dispute between the team and an employee would fall under Goodell's responsibilities, according to the NFL constitution and bylaws.
Ideally, the Saints and Payton would resolve the situation themselves.
They have until the end of the regular season to either work out a new contract or come to an agreement on whether Payton has fulfilled his current contract, which was originally scheduled to expire at the end of the 2012 season.
The looming question, however, is whether this year should count since Payton was suspended for the entire regular season -- or whether the final year of his contract should "toll" into next season, like what happens when players are suspended for an entire season.
There is no rule in place in the NFL's constitution and bylaws about employee contracts in the event of year-long suspensions. So if the Saints and Payton can't agree on that answer, then one or both of them would have to file a demand for arbitration from the NFL.
The league requires that Goodell hears such disputes, rather than having teams or employees sue each other.
In this Sept. 5, 2012, file photo, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gestures to fans before an NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in East Rutherford, N.J.
Bill Kostroun, The Associated Press
That explains why no team or league sources, on or off the record, have confirmed whether Payton will become a free agent at the end of the year. It hasn't been decided yet. And as of now, the NFL has not even been asked to decide on it.
That also helps clarify Goodell's statement from Sunday night, when he said, "Now, it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reiterated that stance Tuesday, saying, "We do not comment on specific terms of individual contracts. Any comment regarding the matter should come from Coach Payton and the Saints."
Neither Payton, his agent Don Yee, nor Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis have responded to requests for comments.
It's unclear if the Saints and Payton disagree on whether his contract should expire at the end of this season or whether they have even discussed it, since they have been barred from talking throughout this season.
Obviously, the Saints could argue that Payton didn't honor the terms of his contract this year since he didn't coach in the regular season. Payton, meanwhile, could argue that he worked for the first three months or that the suspension doesn't change the fact that his contract was set to expire after the 2012 season.
Feldman said it might depend on the specific language of the contract itself - whether Payton signed on for a certain number of years or with a specific termination date.
But if the decision winds up in Goodell's hands, neither side would be guaranteed of the outcome.
Goodell could decide to use past player contracts as a precedent. And some have speculated that he wouldn't want to allow Payton to ultimately benefit from serving a suspension by becoming a free agent.
"You could make strong arguments on either side," said Feldman, though he added that "it's certainly in everyone's best interest to reach a negotiated settlement between both parties."
"The league gets sued enough by outside parties. They don't want their teams suing their own coaches," Feldman said.
Re: New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton would have to appeal to Roger Goodell if they can't agree on Payton's contract status
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