Payton signs five-year extension with Saints

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton signed a five-year contract extension Wednesday that will run through

the 2017 season.

The team announced the extension but did not release financial details of the deal. Payton had agreed to the deal in principle

on Dec. 29.

"Sean has been a critical part

of our success, getting him signed to a long-term deal is very important

to our organization

and we are pleased to have it finalized," Saints general manager

Mickey Loomis said in statement released by the team. "We

have already begun the process of planning for the 2013 season,

turning the page on 2012. We have challenges ahead, but they

are nothing we cannot overcome. I know Sean is ready to get back

to football in 2013."

Payton has guided the most successful period in the franchise's history, leading the Saints to three NFC South division titles

and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV.

Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, can return to work

Feb. 4, the day after the Super Bowl.

"I am excited that we have finalized this contract with Sean," Saints owner Tom Benson said in the release. "He and Mickey

have built a foundation of success as they have built the roster. We have already begun preparations for the 2013 season."

Payton signed an extension in

2011 worth more than $6 million a year that would have kept him in New

Orleans through 2015,

but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell objected to certain language in

that deal, leaving Payton's future uncertain until a deal

was reached in principle. The language in question in the previous

extension gave Payton the right to opt out early if Loomis

left the club for any reason.

Payton is the only coach in

Saints history to win a Super Bowl. But his legacy was tarnished by the

NFL's bounty probe, as

Goodell ruled that Payton failed to exert proper institutional

control over a cash-for-hits bounty program run by former defensive

coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011.

Although the Saints objected to the characterization of what coaches and players have said was nothing more than a performance

pool for big plays, Goodell suspended Payton for the entire season. The commissioner also suspended Loomis for half of the

season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games.

Payton is 62-34 in

regular-season games as Saints coach and 5-3 in the postseason. During

the three seasons before his suspension,

the Saints won 41 regular-season and playoff games combined, more

than any other team in the NFL.

Payton has primarily handled

the offense in New Orleans, teaming up with quarterback Drew Brees to

break numerous NFL and

club records. The single-season NFL records set by the Saints in

2011 included yards passing by a team (5,505) and a quarterback

(5,476). The Saints also set a record for total offensive yards

with 7,474.

Although speculation ran

rampant that Payton could essentially become a free agent after this

season and end up elsewhere,

Brees repeatedly said he would be "shocked" if Payton ended up

anywhere but New Orleans next season. Brees is under contract

with the Saints through the 2016 season, and Payton was the

driving force in the Saints' effort to acquire Brees as a free

agent in 2006.

Without Payton on the sideline

this season, the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since

2008. Brees remained prolific,

but his 18 interceptions also tied for a league high heading into

the final weekend of the season.

When Payton reports back to

work, it will officially close the book on the bounty saga that has

overshadowed the Saints' organization

since the NFL first announced on March 2 that it found the Saints

ran a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hits that

injured opponents.

In addition to the suspensions

of Payton, Loomis and Vitt, the Saints also were docked second-round

draft choices in 2012

and 2013, though Goodell has said he could potentially restores

the Saints' 2013 second-round choice and dock the team a later-round

pick.

Meanwhile, four current or

former Saints were initially given suspensions of varying lengths. Two

current Saints defensive

captains, linebacker Jon Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, were

among those suspended. Vilma was banned for the whole season

and Smith for four games, but the players successfully challenged

their punishment with the help of the NFL Players Association

and never served a game.

Former Commissioner Paul

Tagliabue, who was appointed by Goodell to oversee the players' appeals,

ruled that the NFL probe

was accurate in its findings that the Saints ran an improper

program and attempted to cover it up, but that the evidence was

not strong enough to warrant unprecedented suspensions for players

who had been only fined for similar behavior in the past.