Sources: Sean Payton deal voided

Within the past year, the multiyear contract extension the Saints announced for Sean Payton in September 2011 was voided by the NFL, making the suspended head coach a free agent after this season and casting questions on how long he will remain in New Orleans, according to league sources.

Payton is expected to become the NFL's most sought-after head coach after this season and there already is speculation in league circles that he could wind up returning to Dallas, where he worked as the assistant head coach from 2003 to 2005, during which time the Dallas Cowboys brought in quarterback Tony Romo, who attended the same college, Eastern Illinois, as Payton.

Just as Payton's role in the bounty scandal has been an ongoing saga with the NFL for the past year, so has his contract.

Payton confirmed the news, according to FoxSports.

As recently as March, when Payton was visiting NFL offices to appeal his yearlong suspension in the bounty scandal, he asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the status of his contract extension and was told it was unsatisfactory as it initially was constituted, sources said.

At issue in the contract was one specific clause that would have enabled Payton to walk away from the deal if general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended, fired or left the New Orleans organization, sources said.

The league believed that any such language in Payton's contract would set a bad precedent for other coaching contracts and rejected the deal well before Loomis was suspended for the first eight games this season for his part in the bounty scandal.

"The one contract that was sent into us ... we told him what the issue was," Goodell said. "Now, it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them."

Dating back to roughly the start of this year, the two sides engaged in numerous subsequent conversations to try to resolve the issue but never did.

In the interim, the league has granted Payton permission to work for Saints owner Tom Benson's NBA New Orleans team, and the suspended head coach has been doing some spot work there to earn income.

In a statement issued Sunday morning, the NFL said it had "made no determination" on the status of Payton's contract for next year.

"All contracts between clubs and their employees must be approved by the commissioner, and we do not comment on specific terms of individual contracts," the statement said. "Any comment regarding the matter should come from Coach Payton and the Saints."

Some in the league office believe Payton's contract could toll -- meaning the last year would be put on hold, tying him to New Orleans for the 2013 season -- but there is no evidence to confirm that possibility. Until now, the league has not been asked to review or rule on the contract, according to sources, though some believe it eventually could.

To others, there is no issue. Payton will be a free agent. Some believe Payton's strong relationship with Benson will be enough to keep him in New Orleans long term.

But others are more skeptical, knowing that the suspended head coach has undergone some personal changes in his life that have included going through a divorce and spending plenty of time in Dallas. He bought a house in the city early last year.

When Benson initially announced last year the extension for Payton that never got league approval, he said: "I am very pleased to announce this contract extension today for Sean that will run through the 2015 season. Our goal is to continue to build a tradition of winning here in New Orleans and Sean represents that tradition."

Jason Garrett's first full season as head coach for the Cowboys in 2011 ended with an 8-8 record and losses in four of the last five games, including a de facto NFC East Championship Game against the New York Giants, which kicked off their run to a Super Bowl title.

"I don't know anything about other club's contracts, I don't know any details. It's just totally, not anything to do with the Cowboys or our team at all. I put those kinds of things, (they're) beyond me," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "I don't know what created the speculation. It has no (base) from anything we've heard or anything like that."

The Cowboys are 3-4 entering a Sunday night, Week 9 game at Atlanta.

For Garrett, last season was the first of a four-year contract, the financial terms of which are unknown. He was the highest paid assistant coach in the league at $3 million a season before taking over the head coaching job.

Informaton from ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins was used in this report.