As the football-following world digests the news that Saints coach Sean Payton will, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, become a free agent after the 2012 season, Schefter adds an intriguing new twist that was previously omitted — and that definitely alters the timeline.
Because, as Schefter now points out, Payton’s suspension lasts until the Super Bowl, his free agency wouldn’t begin until early February, weeks after the normal head-coach hiring cycle has concluded.
Sure, some coaches have been hired after the Super Bowl, like when former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel joined the Browns after Super Bowl XXXIX. But Crennel was interviewed before the Super Bowl; as to Payton, the process would be starting from scratch once the Super Bowl ends.
If multiple teams are interested in Payton, will they wait for Payton to finally become available? It would become a very high-stakes game of chicken, with any pursuit for Payton demanding a contingency plan that would entail lining up a fallback who very well would have no interest in waiting around until early February to find out whether he does or doesn’t have a job.
Though Schefter became a little adamant during Monday morning’s SportsCenter regarding the prospects of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones firing coach Jason Garrett and hiring Payton, a lot of things will have to happen before Payton becomes the next coach of the Cowboys.
More importantly, several things will have to not happen, as they relate to the Saints’ equally adamant belief that Payton will be the head coach of the team in 2013 and beyond. For starters, the Saints will have to be deemed unable to fix the flaw in the contract at any point during the next three months, which would allow the problem to be resolved weeks before anyone else could even talk to Payton.
Then there’s the strong visceral notion that Payton shouldn’t be able to profit from his suspension by joining a new team and writing his own ticket. Besides, if he wanted to make the jump to Dallas and coach the Cowboys, all he had to do was not sign the proposed extension in September 2011. But he signed the extension, which means he wants to stay with the Saints. And he included a term that allows him to leave if G.M. Mickey Loomis leaves. Since Loomis is there, why would Payton suddenly want to leave a franchise that has been squarely behind him despite conduct that was deemed sufficiently problematic to justify a one-year suspension?
Finally, don’t discount the league’s desire to work this out so that Payton stays in New Orleans. Regardless of where the blame should be placed, Saints fans will blame the league office for setting in motion the chain of events that ultimately could give the term “Free Sean Payton” a much different meaning.