NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed Sunday that the multi-year contract extension the New Orleans Saints gave to suspended coach Sean Payton in September of 2011 was voided by the league, ESPN.com reported.
If a new contract is not worked out by the end of the season, Payton will be a free agent.
However, there are conflicting reports about whether the Saints can negotiate with Payton between now and the end of the season.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Monday that the Saints have an exclusive three-month window for negotiating a contract with Payton once the suspension of general manager Mickey Loomis ends after Monday night's game against the Eagles.
But ESPN.com reported communication between Payton and the Saints is banned while he is suspended. That report said a written authorization from the NFL would be required for the Saints to negotiate with Payton before his suspension ends. The ESPN.com report also stated Payton's representative Don Yee won't be talking to Saints officials before such authorization arrives because he does not want to violate the suspension guidelines.
The only thing that's clear is that multi-year contract signed last year is void.
"The one contract that was sent into us ... we told him what the issue was," Goodell said. "Now, it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them."
Payton was suspended this season for his suspected role in the bounty scandal. His status with the Saints after this season is questionable because he will likely be a heavily sought-after coach.
Payton told Fox Sports Sunday morning that he "absolutely plans" on staying with the Saints, regardless of his contract status.
Payton was told by Goodell in March when he appealed his suspension that his contract was not satisfactory as constructed. The league took issue with it because it contained a clause that Payton could void the deal if Loomis was suspended, fired or left the Saints.
The league felt that the clause set a bad precedent for other coaching contracts. The contract was rejected before Loomis was suspended in the bounty scandal. Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of this season.
New Orleans is 2-5 and hosts the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) Monday night.
Payton and the league made attempts to resolve the issue with the contract since the beginning of the season but were unsuccessful.
The league allowed Payton to work for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets, owned by Saints owner Tom Benson.
ESPN speculated that the Dallas Cowboys will want Payton if he becomes a free agent. He worked in Dallas as its assistant head coach from 2003-05. During that time, quarterback Tony Romo began his career with the Cowboys. He attended Eastern Illinois, the same college as Payton.
The Cowboys went 8-8 last season under coach Jason Garrett. They are 3-5 heading into Sunday's game against the Eagles, who may also be interested in Payton if they fire Andy Reid.