What's buzzing:

Shutdown Corner

Is Sean Payton still talking with the Saints? The Giants think it’s possible

Jay Busbee
Shutdown Corner

View photo

.

Sean Payton watches Drew Brees in an October game against San Diego. (Getty Images)

It's not often that you hear "counterterrorism" and "football" in the same sentence outside of Tom Clancy novels and Homeland Security paranoia, but in the ongoing avalanche of insanity that is the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, no topic is out of bounds.

At issue: Sean Payton, once and future head coach of the Saints, who's been suspended for the entire 2012 season for his role in a pay-for-hits scandal uncovered last offseason. The NFL has forbidden Payton from having any contact with his team this year, at the risk of a permanent ban. In specific terms, Payton is "prohibited from direct or indirect communication of any sort with employees of the 32 clubs, including through third parties; and such prohibited communications shall include, but are not limited to, phone or electronic contact."

It's a nice idea in theory, but in practice, how exactly would the NFL keep such a lid on Payton's communications? It's a key question, and as the New York Times' Sam Borden notes, it's a question the New York Giants, the Saints' opponent this weekend, are asking.

"Of course he will get his message to them somehow," says punter Steve Weatherford, one of several Giants who expressed concerns to the Times. "I'm not saying anything about Sean Payton as a person or anything, but I think any coach would do that. It's not like he's just going to sit at home and watch the games and not have any thoughts. His message will be heard."

[Related: Chargers' Norv Turner, A.J. Smith reportedly on chopping block]

When head coaches get kicked out of games, their assistants are supposed to take over, but on occasion the head coach can still keep an active hand in the proceedings. One oft-ejected baseball coach would regularly shout directions from his office at the bottom at the dugout stairs. And Bobby Valentine famously once was thrown out of a game but snuck back into the Mets' dugout wearing sunglasses and a fake mustache.

But getting kicked out of a game is one thing. Getting suspended for a season? That completely alters a team dynamic, and you can see why a coach might like to keep his ship from foundering on the rocks in his absence. Without Payton, the Saints are 5-7 and in real danger of missing the playoffs.

If a coach were inspired to communicate with his team, tracking him would be virtually impossible without starting to tread on his civil rights. The Times quotes Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism and intelligence expert who works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Nelson ran down a long list of potential options for discreet communication, including dummy Twitter accounts, disposable cellphones and encrypted e-mails. Nelson said there are programs that can make it seem that an e-mail user has a different address each time.

In terms of trying to monitor Payton's activities, Nelson added, the N.F.L.'s options are limited. The league is restricted by basic privacy laws — meaning, for example, it cannot be like the Central Intelligence Agency and tap Payton's phones — though it could use private investigators to follow Payton or watch him from public areas.

Spies! Encryption! We're starting to get into some serious Homeland territory now!

Payton has received approval to attend a few Saints-related events, like the game in October where quarterback Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas' record of 47 straight games with a touchdown pass. But he's required to report any NFL-related contact to the league, even if it's accidental.

So what does a coach do when he can't coach? Well, golf, of course. But also: coach. Payton has served as offensive coordinator for his son's sixth-grade team, which is sort of like LeBron James taking a year off to play church league basketball. His reinstatement is contingent on commissioner Roger Goodell's approval, which is reason enough to keep Payton on the straight-and-narrow for 2012.

Still, even though there is no evidence to support any kind of cloak-and-dagger spy gaming going on here, we'll continue to hope that there's both smoke and fire. Makes the NFL even more interesting. Shame HBO didn't jump on this story earlier. This would've made for the best season of "Hard Knocks" ever.

Related video from Yahoo! Sports:

View Comments (119)
  • Jaromir Jagr scores two goals to lead Panthers past Senators 4-2

    Jaromir Jagr scores two goals to lead Panthers past Senators 4-2

    The Ottawa Senators have gone from nearly unbeatable to beaten. Jaromir Jagr had two goals and Dan Ellis made 25 saves on Sunday as the Florida Panthers defeated the Senators 4-2, handling them their third straight loss after a stretch that saw … More »

    The Canadian Press - 4 minutes 24 seconds ago
  • Nadal crashes out in Miami, Murray wins

    Nadal crashes out in Miami, Murray wins

    By Simon Evans MIAMI (Reuters) - A struggling and edgy Rafa Nadal crashed out of the Miami Open in the third round on Sunday, losing 6-4 2-6 6-3 to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. The 31-year-old Verdasco, who is ranked 34th in the world, has … More »

    Reuters - 5 minutes ago
  • Clippers beat Celtics 119-106 for 7th straight win

    Clippers beat Celtics 119-106 for 7th straight win

    J.J. Redick scored 27 points, Chris Paul had 21 points and 10 assists, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Boston Celtics 119-106 on Sunday for their seventh consecutive win. Blake Griffin had 21 points and nine rebounds for Los Angeles, which … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 minutes ago
  • UPDATE 3-Tennis-Nadal crashes out in Miami, Murray wins

    * Verdasco prevails in three sets * Murray wins 499th ATP Tour match (Adds quotes) By Simon Evans MIAMI, March 29 (Reuters) - A struggling and edgy Rafa Nadal crashed out of the Miami Open in the third round on Sunday, losing 6-4 2-6 6-3 to … More »

    Reuters - 14 minutes ago
  • Final Four teams have Indy history

    Final Four teams have Indy history

    Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State have all played in prior Final Fours in Indianapolis. Yahoo Sports' Evan Doherty takes a look at the teams' ties to this year's championship site. … More »

    Yahoo Sports Videos - 15 minutes ago