Sean Payton speaks

The New Orleans Saints just released a statement from coach Sean Payton.

This is the first we’ve heard from Payton since the NFL announced Wednesday that he was suspended for his part in the Saints running a three-year bounty program.

“I share and fully support the league’s concerns and goals on player safety,’’ Payton said. “It is and should be paramount. Respecting our great game and the NFL shield is extremely important to me. Our organization will implement all necessary protections and protocols and I will be more vigilant going forward. I am sorry for what happened and, as head coach, take full responsibility. Finally I want to thank (Saints owner Tom Benson), our players and all Saints fans for their overwhelming support.’’

All right, that’s a good start. Payton apologized and accepted responsibility for his actions. He does not begin his one-year suspension until April 1. So, technically, he still will be the coach of the Saints during next week’s NFL meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. Generally, coaches are required to attend the meeting and NFC coaches are scheduled to have breakfast with the media Wednesday. The NFL office has not responded to inquiries asking if Payton will be at the meeting. I think it’s at least possible that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might require Payton to be there and address the media as part of his punishment.

Or we could see a replacement sitting at Payton’s table Wednesday. The Saints have not announced any plans as to how the plan to proceed with their coaching staff while Payton is suspended.

We also have yet to hear directly from Benson. The team issued a brief statement Wednesday night, but it was not attributed directly to any individual. Benson is likely to face a media swarm when he arrives in Palm Beach.