From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- 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."Coach Payton acknowledged in the meeting his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players and pledged to uphold the highest standards of the NFL and ensure that his staff and players do so as well," Goodell said in a statement. "Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension."More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels."Saints owner Tom Benson welcomed back his coach."We are all thankful that Sean Payton has been reinstated," Benson said. "We have a lot of work to do and we are in the middle of it right now."Payton also needs to fill a key position on his coaching staff following the departure last week of offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer, now the offensive coordinator in Chicago.Loomis and Vitt are in Mobile evaluating players. Loomis said he was caught off guard by the news of Payton's return. But he said having Payton back sooner than expected will help the Saints."Every day makes a difference. We've certainly missed Sean in terms of the football team and all the things that go with our business and the game. But look, I miss his friendship. We all miss his friendship. We miss him as a person. I'm excited that he's going to be back here and fired up that he's back."Vitt said he talked to Payton Tuesday morning and that he should join the Saints' contingent in Alabama on Wednesday."We just found out on the way to practice," Vitt said. "Mr. B called Mickey and we're all excited. Sean went and spent the day in New York (Monday). He just got back in Dallas. I talked to him on the phone about 5 o'clock this morning. He's packing his bags so we'll expect he'll be here some time" Wednesday.Vitt agreed with Loomis that the timing of Payton's return is good for the team.Payton is "going to hit the ground running with both feet. His jaw is going to be set. He'll have a note pad full of thoughts and ideas and he's going to have to get himself caught up with the evaluation process of our team and looking at film, which he'll do. This is perfect, getting him back now, because he's going to be here for the readings of our players. He's going to be here for the readings of these college seniors. We start handing out unrestricted free agent tape on Thursday and Friday of this week."This is where you're building the foundation of your football team, with the evaluation process of these draft eligible juniors and seniors and the free agents that are out there."There remains one outstanding issue for the Saints stemming from the bounty probe: What will become of the Saints' second pick next spring. As part of the bounty punishment, Goodell fined the Saints 500,000 and took away second-round picks in 2012 and 2013. However, Goodell left open the possibility of restoring the 2013 second-rounder and instead docking the team a later-round pick if he is satisfied with the club's level of cooperation in the bounty matter.What the Saints do know is that the 49-year-old Payton is set to return to New Orleans for the next five seasons. Earlier this month he signed a contract extension running through the 2017 season.The coach is the last person punished in the bounty probe to return to work. Before Tuesday, Payton had not been at work since mid-April, when Goodell rejected the coach's appeal of his suspension.Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitelyVilma and current Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, along with former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, were given suspensions of various lengths, but never served a game. Their punishments were overturned after lengthy appeals which also coincided with exhaustive litigation in federal court.The litigation included Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell, which was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan last week.Payton's reinstatement is one more step for the Saints to return to normalcy, but for Vitt, said it doesn't bring closure to the bounty scandal."It doesn't for me. You're going to have ask Sean that question, Mickey that question, Vilma that question. It certainly doesn't for me. I can forgive. I'm not going to forget. It is what it is."
Kyle Hendricks has returned at the turn of the tide for the Cubs and he brought his sense of humor.
Hendricks hasn't pitched since June 4 and is slated to return to the Cubs rotation Monday against the White Sox after missing the last seven weeks with inflammation in his pitching hand.
Basically, his middle finger hurt every time he threw certain pitches.
"That's probably the problem — flipping the bird to people," he joked. "Maybe it's too much driving in Chicago, I don't know."
Joe Maddon cracked up when he found out his stoic pitcher delivered a joke.
"He didn't say that. He did? That's very tongue-in-cheek, Dartmouth-in-cheek, right?" Maddon said. "He's like the most mild-mannered, wonderful fellow. It's just such an awkward injury to get and come back from.
"Right now, he's feeling great. [Cubs trainer PJ Mainville] feels really good about it, also. I think his velocity was up a bit also in the minor leagues in a couple starts. All that are good indicators. An unusual injury, but we're happy to have him back."
Kris Bryant injured his finger diving into third base Wednesday, but only missed one full game, using his freakish healing powers to do what Hendricks struggled to do in a month.
"100 percent [wish I could heal like Bryant]," Hendricks said with a smile. "I wish it wasn't the middle finger. If it was another finger, maybe it would've been easier. But a lot of things you wish, I guess, at the outset.
"But you just have to look at it — it was what it was and I'm done with it now. Now just go play."
The finger/hand injury is still largely a mystery to both Hendricks and the Cubs. They don't know how it popped up, beyond just excessive throwing (including pitching into November last season).
He said he felt the issue pop up right before he went to the disabled list and it affected him every time he threw his curveball or sinker, because he used his middle finger more on those pitches. But with his changeup and four-seamer, there was next to no pain.
Moving forward, Hendricks will still throw the curve and sinker just as much in bullpens, but he will cut back on how much he throws overall in between starts, etc. It's too early to address the offseason, but Hendricks — who likes to throw a lot during the winter — will likely have to fine-tune that as well.
Hendricks returns right as the Cubs have appeared to turn their season around. They won the first six games coming out of the All-Star Break and after a rough loss against the Cardinals Friday, pulled off an epic, 2016-esque comeback Saturday vs. St. Louis.
The Cubs trotted out Jose Quintana Sunday and will do the same with Hendricks Monday, making it back-to-back starts from guys who weren't a factor in the Cubs rotation for most of June and July.
"I understand the cliche, but it's actually true this time [that players coming off the DL gives a team a boost]," Maddon said. "To get these two guys coming on board at this time in the season.
"Getting Kyle back with this particular group is really interesting to watch right now. I think that's also gonna be a shot in the arm with the group, just like Jose in Baltimore. You definitely could feel the difference in attitude and I think when Kyle takes the mound, you're gonna feel the same thing, too."
Immediately after hitting the DL, Hendricks had to endure weeks of doing nothing and waiting around until the inflammation subsided. Then he spent the next few weeks building his arm strength back up after going so long without throwing.
"It's just an obstacle and you have to look at it as positive in a way," he said. "I used it to get my body in shape, get my cardio going, get my shoulder work and my arm strong. Just try to take every positive out of it that I could.
"Take a little breather in a way, too. Get away from it. But now, I'm ready to go. Mentally, definitely need this, need to be back and need to have baseball back in my life."
Hendricks and the Cubs are also optimistic his time off could mean he's strong for the stretch run.
Maddon and Co. had been looking for ways to bring the starting pitchers along slowly this season after pitching so many innings so deep into last fall.
The starters were held back in spring training, have been held under 100 pitches in most outings this season and get an extra day off whenever possible.
"The guys are all grinding it out while I'm sitting here getting healthy," Hendricks said. "They're wearing down a little bit, so the guys that are healthy by the end of the year, they can provide a little extra for us."
With Bears players reporting for training camp Wednesday, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz have been spending the last two weeks looking at three burning questions at each position group. The series concludes with Boden’ s look at the coaching staff.
1. Can John Fox find a balance between necessary snaps, and staying healthy?
Unless he’s practicing this team every day (he’s not) and hitting every day (he’s not doing that, either), a coach really can’t be blamed for injuries. That out-of-his-hands factor has kept his first two years from a true evaluation, yet every team has to deal with them. He and Ryan Pace have been particularly hamstrung (pun intended) by the fact so many key, high draft picks/building blocks and impact free agent signings (see Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Royal) have spent significant time on the sidelines.
Fox tweaked the workout schedule in Bourbonnais with more consistent start times (all in the 11 a.m. hour), mixing in off-days and walk-throughs. Yet there are heavy competitions to sift through, particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety, and projected starters must learn to get used to each other (and the offense get used to Mike Glennon) so that miscommunication is at a minimum. The Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers and Packers won’t wait for them to get on the same page over the first 19 days of the regular season.
2. How does Dowell Loggains divide up quarterback snaps?
His starting quarterback basically hasn’t played since 2014 and is trying to master a new system, working with new receivers. All while Mike Glennon tries to be “all systems go”-ready on Sept. 10. Loggains is also in charge of developing the quarterback of the future, who never previously worked under center or called a huddle. If Mitch Trubisky isn’t the backup to start the season, Mark Sanchez, who missed all of minicamp with a knee injury, has to gain enough of a comfort level with the playbook and his receivers to slide in in the event of an emergency. These practices usually top out at about two hours, maybe a bit longer. Will there basically be two practices going on at the same time? If so, how can Loggains and the offensive assistants not overdo it for those at other positions?
3. Are Vic Fangio and Leonard Floyd tied at the hip?
The defensive coordinator still oversees all the position groups, but will focus particularly on the oustide linebackers and the prized pupil, Leonard Floyd. Fangio says he liked what he’s seen of the 2016 first-round pick this off-season, once he recovered from his second concussion. But he said all the bumps, bruises, strains, pulls, and bell-ringing didn’t mean anything more than an incomplete rookie grade. At this point, he’d probably like to be joined to Floyd’s hip in Bourbonnais, because that means he’ll be staying on the practice field, learning. “3b” in this category would be Ed Donatell sorting through a long list of young defensive backs to find the right pieces to keep for the present and future, in addition to finding four starters who’ll take the ball away a lot better than they’ve done the past two seasons.