New Orleans Saints  


Sean Payton might return to Saints, but not because of loyalty


NEW ORLEANS -- On a wall in the back of FredRick's, a joint on St. Charles Avenue that sells some seriously fresh po' boys, there's a dated frame of LSU's 2003 schedule hanging to the left of a booth of slot machines.

There isn't much other sports memorabilia here -- just enough to demonstrate the loyalty this city has for its teams. Case in point: A piece of paper in the front window makes it vividly clear NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won't be eating at this spot.

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But in that frame of LSU's schedule, a picture of a man who has since moved on, winning a championship during his short but successful stay, should serve as a reminder that New Orleans' loyalty to its visitors isn't always reciprocated. Nick Saban proved that much. Is New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton about to do the same?

It's a touchy subject in New Orleans during a touchy time. No way would Payton use a hitch in his previously signed contract to get out of town when he faces a crossroads with his current team. That's at least what loyal Saints fans will tell you.

If there's one lesson sports fans of every kind and every city should learn, it's this: A coach might have many reasons to stick around a certain place -- from money to stature to stability -- but loyalty to a city where he wasn't born, raised or educated is almost never even close to the top of the list. And that's if it's even on the list at all.

Payton probably will stay in New Orleans, meaning it makes sense to say there's higher than a 50 percent chance he and the Saints clean up the language in his contract, seek NFL approval and move along as if this week never happened. If that's the case, he'll then scoff at any assertion that this conclusion was ever in doubt. Saints fans will nod accordingly because, hey, Payton is their guy.

There are three other possibilities:

1. Payton leaves for the Dallas Cowboys.

2. Payton uses his ironically heightened value after a one-year suspension to milk more money out of owner Tom Benson, who also has no choice but to give Payton what he wants because otherwise his fan base will curse him and call him cheap.

3. Payton finds a way to get a new clause in his contract (one the NFL is willing to approve), which provides him with assurance that he'll be able to bounce if any change in the current power structure will alter his happiness in New Orleans.

So which one of those options speaks to Payton's loyalty exactly? Which one convinces you that Payton will leave New Orleans at one point or another? Why are Saints fans so certain that point isn't now?

Look, it's both incredibly smart and decadently shrewd to maneuver as Payton is doing right now in a strange situation that unexpectedly fell into his lap. Quarterback Drew Brees wishes he had this type of leverage when he was negotiating his contract this offseason. Like Payton, Brees had the leverage of his city behind him. But unlike Payton, Brees (a franchise-tagged player) couldn't go sign somewhere else as a free agent.

If Payton's mentor, Bill Parcells, isn't currently the one in Payton's ear giving him advice on how to swindle the system for a few extra bucks, if he's not the one in Payton's ear telling him to protect himself from any change in ownership, then Parcells is most definitely reclined with his feet up and a massive smile on his face. Yes, the Tuna is one proud papa today.

After all, Parcells was the man who successfully implemented a clause in his Miami Dolphins contract that allowed him to walk with $4 million per year if Wayne Huizenga sold the team. He's the man who left the Cowboys when he decided the outcomes of games were too far out of his control.

Parcells, like Payton, is a brilliant football mind. But a loyal one? Come on.

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Benson probably won't take too kindly to Payton if the coach has made this move to push for more coin, but the owner has also proven in recent weeks that his wallet is open. In the past month, he donated $7.5 million to Tulane and $10 million to Brother Martin High School. And let's not forget the $338 million he dropped in April to buy an NBA team. Benson can clearly afford a raise for his favorite football coach, too.

This all falls into the category of tactful, hard-nosed business. Nothing personal, coaches will tell you. Just business.

And so, Saints fans, all of this comes back to one major question: Is Payton on the cusp of leaving New Orleans for Dallas, a place where he'll get paid boatloads of money to live closer to his kids and turn around an organization where he spent three seasons before landing his current job with the Saints?

Chances are, he won't. And chances are, that's only going to cause the Saints' fan base to heighten their belief that Payton's loyalty to this city digs deep. But as each day passes without a new contract signed, as each hour expires while Payton and his agent wisely position themselves to get exactly what they want, the lesson here should ultimately be the exact opposite.

Use this situation to prepare yourselves, Saints fans. Use this to recognize loyalty is a treasured quality that makes your city special. But coaching football isn't about loyalty. It's about self-preservation -- and nothing else.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.



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