Sean Payton nearly became Cowboys coach in 2019; could it happen now?

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With Sean Payton stepping down as head coach of the Saints after 16 years on the job, his next move will become an issue of major intrigue and curiosity. There’s a sense he could land in television for a year or two, perhaps before returning to the NFL.

Or maybe he could simply resurface with a new team. Maybe sooner than later.

He has been linked to the Cowboys on various occasions in the past. He worked there as offensive coordinator under Bill Parcells, before getting the New Orleans job in 2006. Not long ago, Payton nearly became the head coach of the Cowboys.

What follows comes from my new book, Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t). The essay from which it’s drawn can be found there, if/when you purchase the book. (The book contains more than 100 total essays about the last 20 years in the NFL.) Consider this a taste, with the obvious goal being that perhaps you’ll decide to buy the whole pie.

The year was 2019. The month, January. The Cowboys had won 10 of 16 games, along with a wild-card contest against the Seahawks. They lost to the Rams in the divisional round, 30-22. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones contemplated an upgrade from coach Jason Garrett to Sean Payton. Jones wanted to pull the trigger. Payton did, too.

Things unfolded quickly. The Saints had played in the NFC Championship, losing to the Rams on January 20. That week, Jones quietly made his move.

It was a delicate situation, for various reasons. First, the Cowboys had a coach. Jones wouldn’t have fired Garrett unless he knew he could have gotten Payton. Second, league rules (specifically, the Rooney Rule) require a diverse and inclusive search. Third, Jones had to ultimately know that, after going through the motions of a search, he’d be able to get Payton.

So a deal was worked out, behind the scenes. The Saints would have allowed the Cowboys to hire Payton. The Cowboys would have compensated the Saints for the rights to Payton’s contract. And Payton would have signed a new contract with the Cowboys.

It was ready to go. It was happening. It was locked, and it was loaded. Then came Monday, January 28. On that day, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis announced he would not sign another contract with the team, and he requested a trade. (In July, the Pelicans traded him to the Lakers.)

Gayle Benson owns both the Pelicans and the Saints. Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis was, as of January 2019, the executive vice president of basketball operations with the Pelicans. Once Davis made clear his intention to leave New Orleans, Loomis told Payton that Loomis couldn’t be the common thread between a pair of such high-profile Louisiana departures.

That ended it, just like that. The Saints were no longer interested in essentially trading Payton to the Cowboys. In September, Payton signed a new contract. That deal has three years left on it.

And, yes, Jones could once again fire up the behind-the-scenes engine in an effort to land Payton. It would be the same drill as three years ago, however. This time, an unexpected Pelicans-related complication wouldn’t get in the way.

If not now, then maybe 2023. Or 2024. Regardless, the Cowboys have a talented team. And Payton is keenly aware of the fact that no coach in NFL history has won a Super Bowl with two different franchises.

So there’s the story, courtesy of Playmakers. If that leaves you wanting the rest of the pie, well, dig in.

52 responses to “Sean Payton nearly became Cowboys coach in 2019; could it happen now?

  1. Same guys. Over the coaching hill behind the coaching curve.

    Mike McCarthy 153–101–2 (.602).

    Sean Payton 161–97 (.624).

    Both came on in 2006.
    Both one superbowl with hof qbs.
    Both had a handful of aweful seasons.
    Pretty much the same coaches…whats the point for swapping like for like?

  2. If the Cowboys have any potential whatsoever to sign him, they have to. It would be their best hire since Johnson and would suddenly provide them with a huge amount of everything they’ve been lacking since Johnson left.

    I personally don’t think that Prescott and Elliott have what it takes to win it all. But if anyone can maximize the potential of this current bunch, it’s probably Payton.

  3. Most NFL coaches are great coaches, and Payton seems like a great coach, but he’s no better than a guy like Matt Nagy. Give Nagy Drew Brees and see what he can do. McCarthy won a super bowl with a first ballot HOFer, too. They’re all great coaches, they just win super bowls when they have great QB’s. For that matter, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer won with a HOF QB. We made fun of Switzer, but he was able to do everything Jimmy did.

  4. Dirtbag move though. Escape cap hell in NO by stealing another coach’s job. How low can you go.

  5. When you have an overpaid and highly mediocre roster, doesn’t matter who is coaching. Cowboys are regular season quality with zero heart for the playoffs

  6. Not taking any time off – he’s the Cowboys next coach. McCarthy is probably packing his office up right now.

  7. If Payton comes to Cowboys, will Zimmer come to be DC? That would be interesting, the Parcells boys reunited.

  8. Won’t happen. Would sure be interesting though. Wouldn’t take Jerry to long to annoy Payton with his meddling and insistence on real easing a players medical status. Dr. Jones always thinks he knows what’s best for the players.

  9. Maybe he does TV for 3 years, then Belichick retires, and then Payton takes over in NE?

  10. Tonight will be a late work at the Cowboy’s HQ. Jerry tried to get Payton before, but it didn’t work out. Now Payton is out there to be picked up, Jerry can not and will not let him get away again.

  11. Cowboys give up 2 first and a second. A first for Payton and a first and second for Hill and his stupid contract.

  12. Why would Payton go there unless Jones gives up the power? Payton will ruin his legacy because Jerrah thinks he’s a GM.

  13. Payton will be the head coach in 2022 or 2023, depending on if he takes a year away. Jerry also recently said he regrets not giving Chan Gaily 3 years, so McCarthy might get one more year.

  14. Gonna be a late night at The Star. The Jones family is with their lawyers talking McCarthy buyout and drafting up a contract for Sean Payton. Wouldn’t surprise me if McCarthy’s agent is already talking to the Vikings at this moment.

  15. Always thought he was an excellent game coach. Quite a few inforunate breaks otherwise they probably would of won more-

  16. Interesting. NOLA was Payton’s second choice when he took the job in 2006. He interviewed for and wanted the job in Green Bay, but McCarthy got it instead. I wonder if Payton would feel any satisfaction in taking the job McCarthy has now.

  17. ESPN just reported that Payton is stepping away from the Saints. Question is, does he want to work for Jerry Jones?

  18. Doesn’t have the backbone to stick around through the lean years and rebuild the franchise whose demise he was culpable in. Further proof that Brees made Payton look way smarter than he really is. He’ll end up with the classless Cowboys…they deserve each other.

  19. First commenter was correct.
    Sean Payton has coasted since his Super Bowl win, and has done nothing but underachieve since then despite having one of the more talented rosters during Brees’ tenure. People have forgotten that the their defence of that lone title ended after one game to a team with a losing record, getting lit up by Alex Smith the following year, or the three consecutive 7-9 records that came after those playoff debacles.
    Then came the stretch between the 2017-20 seasons where each elimination was more ridiculous than the next. And yet for some reason people are under the impression that his inability to groom a replacement for the aging Brees was somehow not his fault, because many people thought Jameis Winston could be remolded into a workable quarterback or that Taysom Hill wasn’t a glorified running back…
    How many spectacular postseason failures does it take for people to change their minds about him?

  20. Only in America mediocrity sells so much. Despite being bounced from playoffs and really not being that good, they are in the news to Jerry’s delight.

    Here are problems with this supposed reunion:

    Payton would presumably want control over roster and he won’t get it. I’d imagine Jones would want to push boy wonder (Moore) on him and given Payton know a thing or two about offense wouldn’t want him.

    Then there is the question of whether a great coach is a magician. He may be able to do better than McCarthy in terms of discipline and other things. However, contrary to popular opinion, this roster is very average and there are many “stars” but not good football players. Elliott is finished and carries an enormous cap charge. Cooper is robbing cowboys blind but if they release him they don’t have anyone besides Lamb. Shultz is a FA. That OL got absolutely dominated by Niners DL and is not getting better. On D, the “star” Diggs is a ball hawk but the worst cover corner in NFL (gave up NFL high 1016 yards). The DL is overrated. Van Der Esch is so good that he didn’t get the 5th year option.

    So, you see, it’s not a good roster. Just a “star” roster. Plus Jerry will have to give up draft picks to get Payton. So, it will be hard to get new talent. FA won’t work since they are $22M over cap charge and it will only get worse with Dak’s contract.

  21. The Cowboys will easily make the playoff this coming season because they play the NFC East and the NFC North.

  22. Sean Payton is under contract for three more seasons. If he wants to “un-retire” the Saints would have to agree to allow another team to hire him during the next three years. The Saints WILL NOT allow this to happen without demanding a huge haul of drafts picks. It just won’t happen, so Dallas fans will have to continue to embrace the suck for three more seasons.

  23. Sean Payton is not signing with the Cowboys. If anything, he’s currently contemplating retirement.

  24. Payton should have just had one lousy season and got fired, freeing him and any team that wanted him after of the hassle of compensation and all the behind closed door shenanigans. Maybe he was feeling burnt out like Andy Reid and needed a change of scenery, though the circumstances between those two are wildly different (Reid dealing with the loss of his son).

    Either way, what a Pandora’s box this just opened up in the NFC South, and NFL in general. Coaches like him don’t just grow on trees, hall of fame QB or not. Few, if any, coaches could do what he did with the Saints situation this year. Don’t be too shocked if Carolina tries a play (you know they’re sick of Rhule no matter what they say publicly).

    Episode 1 of the 2022 offseason starting off with a thriller.

  25. charliecharger says:

    January 25, 2022 at 3:23 pm

    Most NFL coaches are great coaches, and Payton seems like a great coach, but he’s no better than a guy like Matt Nagy. Give Nagy Drew Brees and see what he can do. McCarthy won a super bowl with a first ballot HOFer, too. They’re all great coaches, they just win super bowls when they have great QB’s. For that matter, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer won with a HOF QB. We made fun of Switzer, but he was able to do everything Jimmy did
    Your keeping that streak going of never being right intact, cheers.

  26. I don’t believe this story.

    1) Gayle would not have approved the trade. 2) There would have been rumors / leaks about it during that time if it got that close, and yet we heard nothing. 3) The Saints were in better position going into the 2020 season than the Cowboys were, and thus it would not make sense for Sean to move to a worse situation. 4) One does not trade their coach to another team within their own conference.

    Nope, not buying it.

  27. Not a Cowboys fan but it Would be quite interesting to see what Sean Payton to do with Dallas.

  28. This is the reason why the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl in 25 years and are unlikely to win another Super Bowl anytime in the near future. Ever since they lost the playoff game to the 49ers, all the talk has been about replacing the Coach, promoting Kellen Moore or Dan Quinn, getting rid of McCarthey, bringing in Sean Payton. If anybody watch that game, the Cowboys players played awful. They didn’t step up and play like a championship team. Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, CeeDee lamb, DeMarcus Lawrence, Diggs, Parsons, you name it all of the big-time players did not show up in that game . You can blame the coaching all you want, but that should fall squarely on the players. And the fact that the players have not been held accountable and do not hold themselves accountable for not showing up in that game, and they’re just gonna blame the coach, is the reason why the cowboys will not win a Super Bowl anytime in the near future. We’re always told that this is a players game . Which it is. So if it is a players game, when the team wins give credit to the players, and when the team loses place the accountability for the loss squarely on the players, which Jerry Jones, and very few people in the media ever do. It is always blame the coach, blame the coach, blame the coach, blame the coach . They will fire McCarthey and bring in Sean Payton, and they will lose again in the first round of the playoffs, and everyone will blame Sean Payton because the Cowboys players rarely are held accountable for their losses

  29. Sean Payton is not old and will still want to coach. And he knows the Cowboys have a talented football team. I think he could be the guy to get them over the top. Mike McCarthy is a nice guy but he doesn’t bring discipline and a tight ship and that is what the Cowboys need. They lost to a less talented but more cohesive team in the 49ers. Payton would change the culture immediately. The Joneses need to do whatever they can to get him. Otherwise, the Raiders would be a good fit too. He’s not going anywhere that doesn’t have a franchise QB. And contrary to what some posters are saying, Dak Prescott is still a franchise QB. Payton would make him better.
    That’s all I’ve got.

  30. I believe this conspiracy theory regarding Davis as much as I believe there was a “schism” in the vikings locker room with Favre 🤦‍♂️ This never happened which is why it was never reported ANYWHERE.

  31. It’s a nice fairytale for sure. Zero truth or reality to any of it but again, like a Peter Pan or Hansel and Gretel, a fairytale that never happened. Payton isn’t going to Dallas to work for a control freak owner with a mediocre QB. There wasn’t a “almost went there” a few years ago just like there isn’t a case of him going there now.

    If Payton returns I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Las Vegas, Minnesota, Houston or Cleveland. It won’t however be Dallas.

  32. “Jones had to ultimately know that, after going through the motions of a search, he’d be able to get Payton.” So the Rooney Rule really matters.

  33. Florio, a couple of days ago you teased us with this story and I posted a message basically begging you to let us in. I’ve been following this site for 15 years and have no intentions to ever stop. You gave us the sneak peek I requested. I’m ordering my copy of your book. Thank you sir.

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