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Will Sean Payton return in 2022? Saints owner Gayle Benson says: 'Who knows?'

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Will Sean Payton be the New Orleans Saints' head coach in 2022? A pretty respectable source says she isn't sure: the team's owner.

Saints principal owner Gayle Benson was asked Monday about the rumors — which really kicked up a notch over the weekend — that Payton could leave the team this offseason.

Her answer?

"We don't know. You know, who knows? We'll find out soon enough, I guess," Benson said, laughing. "I don't think any of us know. But he'll let us know soon enough."

Hardly a denial that something might be up, although Benson laughing during her response certainly can be taken a few different ways.

Here's what we do know: Two fascinating reports on Payton's potential future emerged over the weekend.

On Sunday morning, NFL Media issued a report indicating that Payton's future with the Saints remains up in the air and that he's been on vacation since right after the 2021 season ended, perhaps mulling his immediate plans.

The same report indicated that coaching a different NFL team in 2022 likely isn't in the cards. So that means the 58-year-old Payton, who has three years left on his current contract, either coaches the Saints next season or ...

Perhaps he spends a year (or more) in the broadcast booth before considering a return to coaching. That report came via Front Office Sports, indicating that FOX could opt to replace Troy Aikman with Payton should Aikman leave the network for Amazon, which is taking over the league's Thursday night broadcast package in 2022.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton isn't a guarantee to return to the team's sidelines next season. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton isn't a guarantee to return to the team's sidelines next season. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But that, of course, would require Payton to leave the Saints. If that happens, it would end the run of the NFL's second-longest-tenured coach with a single team, behind the Patriots' Bill Belichick.

Payton joined the Saints in 2006 and has amassed a regular-season record of 152-89 (.631 win percentage), along with a 9-8 mark in the postseason and the winner of Super Bowl XLIV. Despite a 9-8 mark in 2021, Payton's coaching job must be commended for the myriad injuries and obstacles his team faced, which forced to use four different starting quarterbacks.

Benson's "soon enough" seems to indicate that Payton's vacation should end in the coming days, which could lead to eventual clarity on the matter. Meanwhile, Saints fans must sit and wait.

At a reported $15 million per year, Payton is among the highest-paid coaches in the NFL. It's difficult to imagine him walking away from that big a sum of money. But Payton could earn a decent payday from Amazon and try to ask for a raise — $20 million per or more? — if he decided he wanted to return to coaching.

If Payton walks, the Saints might have to turn to defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. The only known team to reach out to Allen for its own head-coaching vacancy: the Chicago Bears. Allen previously was head coach of the Oakland Raiders, amassing a record of 8-28 from 2012 to 2014.

But Allen has done wonders with the Saints' defense since taking over in 2015, turning it from one of the worst units in the NFL to one of the best. He helped lead the Saints' defense to the seventh-fewest yards allowed, the fourth-fewest points and the best run defense in yards per carry allowed this past season. The Saints' 9-0 shutout of the Buccaneers in Week 15 in Tampa was one of the finer defensive performances by any team in the 2021 NFL season.