-- NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said here Monday that the league wants to take an active role in discussions with New Orleans officials about the Saints returning to the city after this season but it's too soon to know what the long-term future of the franchise in New Orleans is.

"I haven't gotten beyond worrying about 2005," Tagliabue said as he stood on the field at Giants Stadium before the Saints-New York Giants game. "Obviously, the biggest issues in New Orleans now are the ones the president spoke about, which their elected leadership is beginning to discuss with their business community: How do they rebuild the city? What's the shape of the city? What kind of businesses do they want there? What kind of a population base do they want there? All of those issues are going to have to be addressed.

"It would be our intention to have a seat at the table in those discussions, as appropriate. But to start speculating about the future right now when all those questions have to be addressed first is kind of pointless."

The Saints' future in New Orleans beyond this season was unclear even before Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters ravaged the city and damaged the Superdome, the Saints' home stadium. The team's lease allows it to leave New Orleans after this season if it chooses. Saints owner Tom Benson said during the offseason that he had received a $1 billion offer for the club from prospective buyers who would move the franchise. An attorney for Benson was quoted as saying that Benson was interested in moving the team to Los Angeles, San Antonio or Albuquerque.

The Saints have based their operations in San Antonio this season. Tagliabue moved the club's first scheduled home game here, and helped to broker a deal in which four of their remaining seven home games will be played in Baton Rouge, La. The other three games will be played in San Antonio, where the Saints might have preferred to play even more games -- for the sake of convenience -- if Tagliabue had allowed it.

Tagliabue said Monday, though, that he would have preferred for all seven games to be played in Baton Rouge if it could have been worked out, and it was important to him for the majority of the team's home games this season to be played in Louisiana.

"It was very important," Tagliabue said. "We wanted all the games to be in Louisiana if that was possible. . . . If we could have had all seven games there, it would have been ideal. . . . We were anxious to get all seven. We couldn't do it, so we ended up with the four and three that was agreed to."

Saints and NFL officials plan to discuss the possibility of Baton Rouge being the team's home next season if a more permanent solution has not been reached by then.

Labor Talks Optimistic

Tagliabue said he's hopeful that the league's negotiations with the NFL Players Association on an extension of their collective bargaining agreement are progressing toward a deal. The talks have picked up momentum since Tagliabue added two team owners regarded as compromisers, the Denver Broncos' Pat Bowlen and the Carolina Panthers' Jerry Richardson, to the league's bargaining committee.

"I think that reshaping the [committee] the way I did and getting Pat Bowlen and Jerry Richardson to become directly involved the way Dan Rooney and Wellington Mara were in past negotiations is a real positive," Tagliabue said. "It shows that we are serious and determined to reach out across the table, and hopefully that will be the beginning of a deal." . . .

The Houston Texans fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer on Monday following the team's second straight embarrassing loss. Joe Pendry, the team's offensive line coach, was introduced as his replacement by Coach Dom Capers on Monday afternoon.

Palmer, who had been the offensive coordinator since the team's inception, also called the plays. The Texans lost to Pittsburgh, 27-7, on Sunday after losing to Buffalo, 22-7, in the opener. Houston has averaged the fewest yards (170.5), fewest passing yards (66.5) and points (7) in the NFL through its first two games. . . .

Defensive end Michael Strahan was in the Giants' lineup Monday even after suffering severe back spasms in recent days that had left his status for the game in doubt.

News services contributed to this report.

From left, former president George H.W. Bush, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson talk with the Saints' Joe Horn.