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Critical time for the Saints

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The New Orleans Saints bounty story is starting to take as many twists and turns as the Peyton Manning story. The difference is that -- unlike the Denver Broncos -- the Saints have more to lose than they have to gain.

The latest twists involve the possibility of bringing in Bill Parcells as interim head coach to replace Sean Payton and the chances of Payton appealing his suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Payton has until April 2 to appeal his one-season suspension that is scheduled to start April 1.

If Payton appeals, Goodell said, he can continue to coach pending an expedited hearing. According to a source, Payton hasn't decided whether to appeal. He hasn't decided what to do about making a suggestion for an interim coach.

Listening to Goodell speak Monday in his first interview since suspending Payton, you don't get the feeling he's going to reduce the penalty. Goodell is a commissioner whose résumé is being built by the safety issue.

Not only did Payton negatively affect player safety by not stopping a bounty system being run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but he was less than forthright when asked about it.

The Saints were warned to stop. They didn't.

Still, the fighter in Payton has to make sure what could be the final week of his 2012 season doesn't go down without his taking a few swings. He knows his punishments were extensive, more than any NFL coach has endured.

Should he appeal for the coaching fraternity? Should he appeal for himself? Or should he just accept the punishment? He has less than a week to decide.

Goodell also clarified the terms of Payton's suspension. He's suspended from the team totally. He's not to have any contact with his staff or players, and he's banned from team headquarters. Goodell is a realist who knows there might be some contact with people Payton knows in the organization.

"But he's not going to be coaching from home," Goodell said.

And the commissioner said he wouldn't block Payton from doing television during the suspension.

The NFL owners meeting is being held this year at the plush Breakers Hotel. Monday was a picture-perfect South Florida day. The sun was bright. An ocean breeze made life easier for those attending and sitting by the pool. Owners, general managers and coaches walked the lobby relaxed and refreshed.

What they didn't seem to realize is the urgency involving Payton. The 2012 season is this week for the Saints. As the leader of the organization, he has to make things right, and he has a week to do a year of work.

He currently has four viable interim options on his staff, but he could pass on all four. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt would be the best option under normal circumstances, but he is suspended for six regular-season games. An interim could have to fill in for him for six weeks.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is an option, but, according to a source, he wants to stick with calling plays. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has been a candidate for head-coaching jobs outside of New Orleans, but he's not going to campaign for the job.

Then there is defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He's been a head coach, so he could do it, but he was hired to replace Williams as the defensive coordinator. Promoting him would force the team to pick another defensive coordinator and take Spagnuolo out of the job he was hired to do.

It's a tough call.

While it's nice to have options, Payton has to suggest the right person now. Appealing his sentence might buy more time, but it could make things worse, not better. Appealing could further anger the commissioner and his staff.

Payton has to take into account that players on his team could be suspended. That case is still being processed.

While 31 teams bask in the South Florida sun, the Saints' season is on the line. Parcells could bail out Payton and the Saints by accepting a position. At 71, his fire for coaching might not be burning, but putting Parcells with Drew Brees could light a fire for the organization.

Payton helped to build the Saints into a champion, but how he handles the rest of the week could determine how far this organization falls this season.