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It's unclear if Saints coach Sean Payton will become free agent after 2012 season

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

Whether head coach Sean Payton's contract is still controlled by the New Orleans Saints after this season is up in the air, according to the head of the NFL Coaches Association.

"It's an open question," NFLCA executive director David Cornwell said Sunday. "The [NFL] constitution and bylaws don't speak to this issue, to my knowledge."

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Sean Payton was allowed to attend the Saints-Chargers game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last month. (AP)

ESPN reported Sunday that Payton's contract extension, which was signed in 2011, was voided by the NFL because it included language deemed unacceptable to the league. Specifically, the contract was designed so that Payton could get out of the deal if New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended or left the team in some way.

Although Payton told Fox's Jay Glazer that he "plans" to coach New Orleans in 2013, there are others in Payton's camp who wonder exactly how this is going to go. While the league contends that Payton's contract would "toll" (freeze) during a suspension the same way that a player's contract does when he's suspended, there is a huge difference.

In essence, unlike with players, there is no collective bargaining agreement between the league and the coaches, who are considered part of management. The NFLCA is not a formal union and doesn't negotiate with the league for all coaches. That means that there is no language that specifically addresses this situation. At this point, it's uncertain as to who would rule on whether Payton is contractually obligated to coach the Saints in 2013.

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A month ago, one source with knowledge of Payton's contract was asked specifically about whether the deal would toll.

"You could write anything about [Payton's] contract and it could be right," the source said. "It's impossible to know how this is going to play out."

Payton has been paid for at least part of the year until he was suspended by the league in March. It's the opinion of Payton's side that he worked at least part of the year and should get credit for that.

While Payton has expressed appreciation and loyalty to New Orleans owner Tom Benson, Payton also is aware that he would be an extremely hot commodity on the coaching market if he were available. Payton's value has only been enhanced this season by the struggles of the Saints, who are 2-5 without him as they struggle to deal with the bounty scandal that has resulted in suspensions for him, Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt and initially four current or former Saints players.

Moreover, Benson announced Payton's three-year extension with great pride last season when it was believed to have been finalized. Benson said the contract ended any question about whether Payton would be with the team through 2015.

Quarterback Drew Brees signed a five-year, $100 million deal in July based largely on the fact that Payton would be the coach for at least most of that time. Now, Benson likely will have to pony up even more than the $7 million to $8 million per year that Payton was believed to have gotten as part of the extension.

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"A lot has happened to Sean since he signed the extension," a source said. "He got divorced. He bought a house in Dallas. He spent a lot more time with his son. He has gotten a lot healthier in a lot of ways. I think there's a big question in his mind about what he would want to do going forward."

News of Payton's contract situation has led to immediate speculation of whether he would be pursued by the Cowboys if Dallas parts way with coach Jason Garrett. Payton, a former Cowboys assistant, is extremely close with owner Jerry Jones. When Payton was the offensive coordinator of Dallas and was being wooed by the Raiders, Jones gave Payton a big raise after Payton turned down the offer from Al Davis.

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