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Sean Payton says he wants to return to Saints, but what do the Saints want?

Rumors continue to swirl that Saints coach Sean Payton will consider other options after the season ends, even though Payton has said -- multiple times -- that he wants to return to New Orleans. So what’s really going on?

Consider this: As the speculation and reports continue to percolate regarding Payton, the Saints have said nothing. So what do the Saints want?

No one knows. And no one will know until after the season ends, at the earliest.

It’s possible that the Saints are keeping their cards close to the vest in the hopes that someone will contact the Saints in an effort to pry him away with compensation, allowing the Saints both to get something in return for Payton and to avoid a buyout obligation.

If the Saints fire Payton, they get nothing. And they’d have to pay the difference between whatever he’s due to be paid for the balance of his Saints contract and what he earns elsewhere. If the Saints essentially trade Payton (although it wouldn’t be a trade, technically), the Saints will receive compensation and owe Payton nothing.

Taking it all to the next level, what if Payton has been professing his desire to stay with the Saints in part to see where he stands with the organization? To date, his renewal of vows has been unrequited, which could make him more willing to consider opportunities in Miami or Indianapolis or San Diego or Tennessee or New York or pretty much anywhere there’s a vacancy with a good-to-great quarterback under contract.

Technically, Payton wouldn’t be able to talk to another team unless and until the Saints work out tentative compensation with that team, in the event Payton is hired elsewhere. But plenty of communications happen through the back channels, and Payton could be inclined to let interested teams know that he’s willing to explore other options, if the Saints haven’t told him privately that they want him to return.

They’ve definitely said nothing publicly, which could be saying plenty about what they may be planning to do.