New Orleans Saints football coach Sean Payton. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:35 PM
As doubtful as it might be that it was part of the master scheme, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has, wittingly or not, helped make Sean Payton the highest paid coach in the league.
Maybe it’s time he lets Payton start earning that paycheck.
It would probably be a good move for Goodell. It would definitely be a good move for the Saints, who haven’t had much encouraging news in the last year.
As it stands now, Payton’s Penance for Bountygate — the one-season suspension — doesn’t end until after the Super Bowl is played on Feb. 3, presumably the day after.
Even that, according to the original decree handed down, is not technically true.
Actually, Payton can only “apply” for reinstatement (to the all-powerful Goodell) on the day after the Super Bowl.
Hopefully, Goodell can make quick work of that decision and keep it, like so much else involved with this sticky Bountygate affair, from getting tied up in messy courtrooms.
But why wait?
Break out those “Free Sean Payton” T-shirts now. Fire off a letter to your congressman. Picket NFL headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York.
Play the Katrina sympathy card. Anything.
This has gone on long enough. New Orleans has suffered through a 7-9 season that, as recently as last February — pre-scandal — was supposed to end with the Saints in the Super Bowl in their very own Superdome.
They lost to the Chiefs. Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment and expressly forbidden by the Constitution?
Instead, there’s this one last dagger coming. At least one of the teams that will be right there on the city’s front porch, probably propping their feet up on the good furniture, will either be the Saints’ former longtime nemesis (49ers) or their blood rival since inception (Falcons).
On second thought, maybe this whole year really is a conspiracy to make an entire region suffer. Too many coincidences.
So, Mr. Commissioner, I behoove you, this is a city and a fan base that needs some good news, some encouragement.
Let Payton go. Take off the shackles and handcuffs. Now! Commute the sentence and let him report for duty at the Saints’ headquarters tomorrow and get to work cleaning up this mess with new and pent-up vigor.
The point has been made — it may be a players’ league, but coaches really are important.
Nobody will ever doubt it again after what the Saints went through with Payton banned from the property.
If there was any doubt, voiding his contract in mid-nightmare, which allowed the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones to make eyes at him, really put a scare in Saints fans and all but forced owner Tom Benson to open up the vault to make sure he comes back eventually.
As the head coaching salaries escalate in the next few years to keep up, smiling head coaches everywhere will be forever grateful for Bountygate.
So Payton will actually benefit from his crimes, such as they were.
Let him start earning that money, even if it’s just sweeping floors until the draft and mini-camps.
Actually, there’s plenty he could do. He did watch the Saints from afar. If any changes are to be made in the staff, for instance, he needs to get in there and talk to trusted confidants about what really went on. If so, he needs to get into the hiring phase, like right now, before all the good candidates are picked over.
He doesn’t even know the first-year players on last year’s roster.
There’s plenty he could be doing.
And what’s the harm?
We’re talking about Payton getting maybe two or three weeks lopped off for good behavior and time served.
It’s not like he can have any effect on who ends up in this year’s Super Bowl or what happens when they get there.
Even outside of New Orleans and Louisiana, it seems that public opinion on Goodell’s hanging-judge approach to the whole sordid affair has gradually shifted against him.
At first hailed for the firm stance, his role gradually shifted in more and more circles as a power-crazy ploy, too eager to make a statement at the expense of being fair.
That was when the affected players kept fighting him, in court and in the media, to this day never backing down that Goodell overreacted.
The players benefited from their persistence.
Payton got nothing — well, except a big, big raise.
How much would it hurt to throw the Saints a bone right now?
It could show Goodell does have a softer, gentler side.
It would be a nice, harmless gesture for the locals before spending the week of the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
It’s doubtful, still, that Goodell would be asked to stick around and reign over Mardi Gras as the celebrity King of Bacchus. But it would be a start to let the healing begin on the harshest penalties every levied against an NFL team.
• • •Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org