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The NFL has granted the New Orleans Saints permission to negotiate a new contract with suspended coach Sean Payton, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The newspaper reported that, while Payton's suspension for his involvement in the bounty scandal forbids him from speaking with the organization, he and the Saints are permitted to speak in regards to his contract situation.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday that a previous contract extension between Payton and the Saints was voided by the league. Should the two sides be unable to reach agreement on a new deal, Payton would be a free agent.
Saints QB Drew Brees has no doubt he'll be reunited with Payton in 2013.
"I absolutely believe he'll be back," Brees said Monday night after guiding the Saints to a 28-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said he hadn't seen or heard Sunday's report and didn't want to comment, but added, "This team loves Sean, and Sean loves this team. This city loves Sean, and Sean loves this city. I think that's a tough combination to beat."
New Orleans safety Roman Harper said he sees no reason for Payton to leave New Orleans, especially after being linked to the bounty case.
"Why would he not come back? He's got something to prove," Harper said. "There's nothing like having a man with a chip on his shoulder. This is just another way the NFL is trying to get at us. We just have to keep our minds on things we can control, and that's playing football."
But linebacker Scott Shanle sounded more concerned.
"We'd be crazy if we said we weren't worried about it, but at the same time, that's out of our control," he said. "We can't do anything about it. We can't let that story and that development sidetrack us from what we're trying to do."
With Payton's earlier ties to the Cowboys and close relationship with owner Jerry Jones, there has been speculation he could replace Dallas coach Jason Garrett.
Jones denied such talk Sunday while Garrett said his sole focus remains on getting his 3-5 Cowboys to the playoffs.
"There's a lot of stories that circulate around our game," Garrett said Monday afternoon. "So certainly some people bring those kinds of things to my attention, but again, we're (focusing) on what we need to do. We had heck of a challenge (Sunday night) in Atlanta, trying to play an undefeated team, so that's where our attention was."
Payton led the Saints to the franchise's only Lombardi trophy with a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.