NEW YORK — Sean Payton is back as coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Payton's season-long suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program was lifted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.
The decision allows Payton to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, where some of the top college players available for the NFL draft will be competing.
Payton, along with assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma, was suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.
"I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations," Payton said in a statement. "Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed."
The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday.
NFL LOOKING INTO BRADY'S SLIDE VS. RAVENS: The NFL is looking into Tom Brady's leg-up slide that hit Ravens safety Ed Reed in the AFC championship game.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday "any play of that nature is routinely reviewed."
Brady could be subject to a fine if the league believes he violated any player safety rules.
During the final minute of the first half, Brady slid at the end of an impromptu run. The quarterback's upraised leg hit the onrushing Reed, who temporarily limped away. Reed was not injured.
Reed says Brady attempted to apologize this week for the slide.
"He actually reached out to me, texted me," Reed told WJZ-FM in Baltimore. "I tried to text him back, but the message exploded after 12 seconds, so I had to call him. ... He's just apologized and what not. But I told him, 'You know, it's good, man.'"
NFL HOPES TO DECIDE PRO BOWL'S FATE BY APRIL: The NFL is hoping to decide the fate of the Pro Bowl by the time it releases next season's schedule in April. And the fate of the league's all-star game will largely depend on how much effort this year's Pro Bowlers put into the game.
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that the league expects players to play with the same intensity that made them Pro Bowl selections in the first place.
Goodell nearly canceled the game after uninspiring play last year, but it will be held Sunday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu after discussions between the league and the player's union.
STUDY FIND CTE SIGNS IN LIVING NFL PLAYERS: Researchers have discovered images of a protein that causes football-related brain damage in living former players, a potentially crucial study that could help medical experts diagnose the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living patients.
"It is the holy grail of CTE research to be able to identify those who are suffering from the syndrome early, while they're still alive," said the study's author, Dr. Julian Bailes, director of the Brain Injury Research Institute and the Bennett Tarkington Chairman of the department of neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem, based in Evanston, IL. "Discovering the effects of prior brain trauma earlier opens up possibilities for symptom treatment and prevention."
Researchers recruited five retired NFL players 45 years of age or older, and each had a history of one or more concussions.