Posted January 09, 2013 on AP on Fox
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New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton signed a five-year contract extension Wednesday that will run through the 2017 season. The team announced the extension but did not release financial details of the deal. Payton had agreed to the deal in principle on Dec. 29. ''Sean has been a critical part of our success, getting him signed to a long-term deal is very important to our organization and we are pleased to have it finalized,'' Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in statement released by the team. ''We have already begun the process of planning for the 2013 season, turning the page on 2012. We have challenges ahead, but they are nothing we cannot overcome. I know Sean is ready to get back to football in 2013.'' Payton has guided the most successful period in the franchise's history, leading the Saints to three NFC South division titles and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV. Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, can return to work Feb. 4, the day after the Super Bowl. ''I am excited that we have finalized this contract with Sean,'' Saints owner Tom Benson said in the release. ''He and Mickey have built a foundation of success as they have built the roster. We have already begun preparations for the 2013 season.'' Payton signed an extension in 2011 worth more than $6 million a year that would have kept him in New Orleans through 2015, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell objected to certain language in that deal, leaving Payton's future uncertain until a deal was reached in principle. The language in question in the previous extension gave Payton the right to opt out early if Loomis left the club for any reason. Payton is the only coach in Saints history to win a Super Bowl. But his legacy was tarnished by the NFL's bounty probe, as Goodell ruled that Payton failed to exert proper institutional control over a cash-for-hits bounty program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011. Although the Saints objected to the characterization of what coaches and players have said was nothing more than a performance pool for big plays, Goodell suspended Payton for the entire season. The commissioner also suspended Loomis for half of the season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Payton is 62-34 in regular-season games as Saints coach and 5-3 in the postseason. During the three seasons before his suspension, the Saints won 41 regular-season and playoff games combined, more than any other team in the NFL. Payton has primarily handled the offense in New Orleans, teaming up with quarterback Drew Brees to break numerous NFL and club records. The single-season NFL records set by the Saints in 2011 included yards passing by a team (5,505) and a quarterback (5,476). The Saints also set a record for total offensive yards with 7,474. Although speculation ran rampant that Payton could essentially become a free agent after this season and end up elsewhere, Brees repeatedly said he would be ''shocked'' if Payton ended up anywhere but New Orleans next season. Brees is under contract with the Saints through the 2016 season, and Payton was the driving force in the Saints' effort to acquire Brees as a free agent in 2006. Without Payton on the sideline this season, the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Brees remained prolific, but his 18 interceptions also tied for a league high heading into the final weekend of the season. When Payton reports back to work, it will officially close the book on the bounty saga that has overshadowed the Saints' organization since the NFL first announced on March 2 that it found the Saints ran a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. In addition to the suspensions of Payton, Loomis and Vitt, the Saints also were docked second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013, though Goodell has said he could potentially restores the Saints' 2013 second-round choice and dock the team a later-round pick. Meanwhile, four current or former Saints were initially given suspensions of varying lengths. Two current Saints defensive captains, linebacker Jon Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, were among those suspended. Vilma was banned for the whole season and Smith for four games, but the players successfully challenged their punishment with the help of the NFL Players Association and never served a game. Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed by Goodell to oversee the players' appeals, ruled that the NFL probe was accurate in its findings that the Saints ran an improper program and attempted to cover it up, but that the evidence was not strong enough to warrant unprecedented suspensions for players who had been only fined for similar behavior in the past. --- Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
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