Pursuit of Sean Payton looms, if it hasn’t already started

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In past years, while Sean Payton was coaching the Saints, November and December would be the time for Sunday Splash! reports (Payton himself coined the term) suggesting that this year would be his last year in New Orleans.

Last year, which actually was his last year in New Orleans, there were no reports during the season suggesting that he’d be done.

This year, it’s just a matter of time before reports emerge linking Payton to potential openings in 2023. He has made it clear he’ll coach again. The questions are where, and when?

“Ultimately, do I think I’ll get back in? Sure,” Payton told Jarrett Bell of USA Today in July. “There’s no way to predict who that club might be. Usually, there are about six openings every year. If there’s a right fit somewhere, that ultimately will depend on several factors.”

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald previously listed some of the factors: (1) warm weather; (2) a roster that can contend; and (3) control over personnel decisions.

Other important factors apply. Specifically, what the team is willing to pay Payton — and what the team is willing to give the Saints.

Payton, appearing on the most recent episode of the Manningcast, said in jest (we think) regarding Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, “He has a chance to be a free agent, and I have a chance to be a free agent.”

There’s a very slim chance of either happening. The Ravens won’t let Jackson walk away. The Saints surely won’t let Payton walk away, either.

The Saints still hold Payton’s contractual rights, at least through 2024. Arguably, they’re entitled to compensation for his services indefinitely. He left with three years remaining on his contract. The Saints could take the position that he can’t simply sit out for three years and then go wherever he wants, that his contract tolls after he voluntarily walks away.

It’s an issue that could end up in a legal battle if a coach ever quits with one year left on his contract, and then tries to join another team after sitting out a year. It won’t be an issue with Payton, because he won’t be sitting out three years. He almost didn’t sit out one year.

The Dolphins reportedly were ready to surrender a first-round pick to get Payton for 2022 and beyond. As one league source recently put it, other teams should have been trying to do the same thing. Payton is a proven commodity. Coordinators with no head-coaching experience are a crapshoot.

Although several of them are doing well this year (Giants coach Brian Daboll, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel), Nathaniel Hackett is struggling with the Broncos. Indeed, it’s already clear that he’s one of those coordinators who is good enough to get a promotion to a job at which he’s not very good. (There’s a chapter in Playmakers about this dynamic. I mention that because it’s true, and because Playmakers would be a great gift for someone else, or yourself, during the holiday season.)

Payton has shown he can be, and is, a great coach. What’s wrong with the Saints this year? With all due respect to Dennis Allen and company, they don’t have Sean Payton. He’s a force of nature. An every-waking-moment dynamo who demands a full and complete commitment, and who makes one. Not content to have a “system” that works offensively, he’s constantly looking for ways to make it better. For ways to stay ahead of each and every defense his team will be facing.

He’s worth a first-round pick. Actually, he’s worth more than that. He’s worth $20 million a year. Actually, he’s worth more than that.

Really, what’s more important to an NFL team? One great player, or one great coach?

Payton isn’t the only great NFL coach. But he’s the only great one who is currently unattached, and who will be eyeing potential openings for a hiring cycle that begins seven weeks from today.

And the drill is well known by now. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, owners routinely decide that their teams need a new coach. This time around, Payton is in the mix of potential candidates to turnaround a team, quickly if not immediately.

Surely, some owner is already plotting a path to Payton. Possibly, that owner is already putting it in motion.

29 responses to “Pursuit of Sean Payton looms, if it hasn’t already started

  1. Carolina, Houston, Denver, Tampa should be all over this guy. I think he’s going to either of the first two… especially Houston with all those draft picks and he would be given full personnel control.

  2. If Bill Belichick hasn’t been able to win anything significant without Tom Brady, please tell me we’re not expecting Sean Payton to win without Drew Brees. I don’t think that would be fair.

  3. Would Payton even be a great coach without Drew Brees ? I have my doubts. Taking another HC job somewhere is not a ticket to a great team without a great QB.

  4. He bailed as soon as Brees left. He very well could be the next “great coach” to be exposed i.e Bellichick

  5. Would he even consider a team in the same division as his old team…..
    Tampa would be highly interesting with all their talent or maybe even the Panthers….

  6. With all that gushing about how great a coach he is it’s worth remembering he won one super bowl, when his defense paid bounties for knocking players out of games. He knew and lied about it to NFL and got suspended. Just saying he’s not Vince Lombardi..

  7. Has basically the same record as Mike McCarthy and blew several playoff games. Overrated, and as he proved last year, he’s basically nothing without Drew Brees. Five-game losing streak and a 9-8 record with a QB room he hand selected. Missed the playoffs. Never identified a QB successor to Brees and that’s why he quit, so he didn’t have to wallow in the mess he created.

  8. Next Bronco HC. Not a coincidence he openly criticized what they were doing with Wilson and how he’d call plays there. Chargers are too cheap to hire him, and I doubt they fire the GM even if they get rid of Staley because he’s clearly given him a lot of good players to work with.

  9. Coaches like Payton and Belichick who have worked with the same elite caliber QB’s for years seem like they have forgotten what life is like without them and can’t figure out how to work with anyone else. Belichick hasn’t done much without Brady and Payton was crap without Brees. I doubt a year off is going to change that.

  10. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in New England. Mac Jones needs a quarterback guru. If this season ends poorly I can see there being a rift between Belicheck and Kraft. Jones may not be Drew Brees but I can see him being serviceable like Kirk Cousins.

  11. I am so pleased the Dolphins are not linked to the next flavor-of-the-month coach or QB every time a website needs some click-bait anymore. Good luck to Payton and Lamar. I enjoy watching you both, just not for my Phins thanks.

  12. Chargers, Cardinals and Broncos are the best 3 jobs that should be open. Bad coaching is limiting their talented quarterbacks.

  13. You can take the cards out of the list. Sean works over the middle of the field with his scheme that guy paid so much can’t even see the middle of the field

  14. People comparing Belichick to Payton should realize that without Brady, Belichick went 7-9 with Cam Newton unable to throw a football and 10-7 with a rookie QB, and currently is on pace to go 10-7 again (at 6-4 right now) while consistently having great defenses.

    Payton is 1) an offensive only coach, which showed when he MISSED THE PLAYOFFS with great QB seasons from Brees at 7-9 three years in a row and 2) has won 9 playoff games in 15 seasons and 4 in the last 9 seasons.

    They just aren’t the same

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