Sean Payton's five-year contract extension with the New Orleans Saints is expected to pay him more than $8 million annually, which should establish him as the NFL's highest paid coach, a league source said.
Payton and Saints owner Tom Benson only have agreed in principle to the extension. The contract has yet to be approved by the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, who refused to validate a 2011 agreement between the team and Payton because of a clause that permitted Payton to leave the franchise if general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended, fired or otherwise left the front office.
A source familiar with the negotiations said that language has been "cleaned up" and no issue regarding league approval is expected.
Payton would have been the most coveted available coach in the NFL if the Saints and league office had allowed him to become a free agent. But a source said Payton's preference from the beginning was to remain with the Saints, a team he coached to a Super Bowl title following the 2009 season.
Payton and Loomis built the Saints into one of the league's most successful organizations. The coach's desire to ensure he and Loomis continued their partnership was ultimately what caused the league to reject the original contract.
The contract values of NFL head coaches are often secretive, but Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is believed to be making just under $8 million per season.
Payton has missed this season while serving a suspension for the Saints' bounty program. He is eligible for reinstatement on Feb. 4, the day after New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl. It is believed Payton and Goodell will meet as part of the reinstatement process before the coach returns to work.
Earlier this month, Goodell told ESPN during the owners' meetings in Dallas that preliminary discussions had been conducted internally regarding Payton's return and that those conversations would become more focused after the holidays.