Sean Payton hasn’t done this at all this season. (Jim Hudelson / AP)

Now that the suspensions of four New Orleans Saints for an alleged bounty scheme have been overturned, there’s still the matter of Coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the 2012 season, to be resolved.

Roger Goodell is considering Sean Payton’s return date. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN on Wednesday that talks about Payton’s reinstatement have begun. Payton, suspended March 21, would like for his suspension to be lifted at the end of the regular season, rather than after the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, which just happens to be in New Orleans, where Goodell’s bounty suspensions were, to put it mildly, wildly unpopular. Reinstating Payton before the game would improve Goodell’s Big Easy reception, which figures to be extremely unpleasant. The Saints, who won the Super Bowl in February 2010, have struggled to a 5-8 record this season and “Free Sean Payton” T-shirts have been a hot seller.

Goodell did not reject the possibility of an earlier reinstatement, Werder reported.

“I don’t want to say he could be because, again, we are in the early stages,” Goodell said in Irving, Texas, where NFL owners were meeting. “We are starting to talk about it.”

There will be further discussions, Goodell said, after the holidays.

Although former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who heard appeals from the suspended players, confirmed Goodell’s factual findings in the bounty scandal, he vacated the suspensions of the four current or former Saints players, but found culpability in Saints management. “Saints’ coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL’s investigation,” he wrote in his ruling. Payton was not part of the appeal. 

The other matter facing him is just where he will coach.

The contract extension he agreed to in 2011 was not approved by the league because of the precedent that would possibly have been set by a clause that would have allowed Payton to leave if Mickey Loomis, the general manager, were suspended, fired or quit. Resolving the contractual issue is a matter for the Saints and Payton, Goodell told Werder. (Loomis was suspended eight games for the bounty scandal.)

Already, there is speculation that Payton could leave the Saints for the Dallas Cowboys, if Jerry Jones were to fire Jason Garrett.

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