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Saints coach Sean Payton clears COVID-19 protocols, returns to team ahead of Dolphins game

Sean Payton and his whistle are united again.

The New Orleans Saints coach tested out of the NFL's COVID-19 protocols Friday, allowing him to return to the team, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday. Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune first reported the news.

The coach's return comes as his team prepares for a crucial prime-time game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Both teams are 7-7 and battling for playoff position with three games left to play. The Saints are tied with the Eagles and Vikings for the NFC's No. 7 seed, although the Vikings currently hold the tiebreaker edge.

Payton tested positive for the virus the Friday prior to the team's Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and missed the contest. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen served as acting head coach and directed a shutout of one of the NFL's most prolific offenses in a 9-0 Saints win.

This was Payton's second known bout with COVID-19, as he tested positive in March of 2020 as well.

Payton will rejoin a Saints team down multiple players due to COVID-19, including quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian. New Orleans is preparing to start rookie QB Ian Book against Miami on Monday night.

Behind Book will be veteran quarterback Blake Bortles, who is signing with the team Friday, Rapoport reported. Bortles spent less than two weeks with the Green Bay Packers in November while they dealt with COVID-19 issues. Bortles has not played in a regular-season game in over two years.

Both Payton and Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for COVID-19 last week and subsequently missed a game. Stefanski cleared protocols and rejoined the Browns on Wednesday. This week, Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni tested positive and entered protocols, as did New York Jets coach Robert Saleh.

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