It's believed that the most likely scenario for Sean Payton in 2012 is a return to the Saints. New Orleans has an exclusive negotiating window to lock up the coach and there aren't many realistic options for where else Payton can land.
But don't completely rule out the Cowboys: Mike Triplette of the New Orleans Times-Picayune had an interesting take on the situation Friday, writing that Dallas is still very much in play for Payton, depending on how the season shakes out.
If the Cowboys make a run to the playoffs, it's likely they will keep Jason Garrett at the helm, provided they don't totally flame out in the first round. Keeping Garrett would, quite obviously, end any Payton speculation.
Triplette writes that the Cowboys very-much-in-flux postseason hopes are what will likely keep Payton and the Saints from inking a deal in the very near future. Also a factor are Payton's kids, who live in Dallas.
"There is no indication that Payton is unhappy in New Orleans or looking to leave the Saints," Triplette writes. "But the fact that Payton's children live in Dallas would be a major factor if he winds up having a choice to make between the two teams -- in addition to his high esteem for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the aura of the Cowboys' franchise, among other factors."
Perhaps most interestingly, Triplette reports that if Payton wanted to leave New Orleans "for family reasons," the Saints "probably wouldn't force him to stay against his will."
Of course, all of this is a long way from happening, but the irony is that the Saints, if they make the playoffs, might very well force the Cowboys out of the postseason ... which might very well send Payton to Dallas this offseason.
The safe bet is still that Payton stays in New Orleans for 2013. But the idea of a miracle run for the Saints coupled with a total meltdown for the Cowboys isn't really that far-fetched when you think about it. So neither should the notion of Payton coaching the Cowboys in the future.
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