It didn’t take long for Sean Payton to rekindle interest in coaching. Almost six months laterfrom the Saints, the longtime head coach this week he thinks he will, in fact, return to the NFL; it’s just a matter of when and where. Payton, 58, even went so far as to note there are usually about six openings each year, a sign he’ll be monitoring whatever vacancies arise in 2023.
It’s possible the former Super Bowl champion will ultimately resume his place atop the Saints’ staff, especially considering his contract with New Orleans runs through 2024. But that would have complications: the team this offseason hired defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to take Payton’s job, and Payton himself all but bade the franchise farewell in a lengthy sendoff press conference before taking a job with Fox Sports for 2022.
All signs point to Payton starting fresh if/when he patrols the sidelines again. That would require his new team compensating the Saints via trade, but his resume should help New Orleans draw attractive offers. With that in mind, here are six of the most logical destinations for Payton in the event he returns in 2023:
Note: The Miami Herald recently reported that the Chargers and Dolphins would likely be interested in Payton, should they have openings, but we don’t foresee either Brandon Staley or Mike McDaniel being replaced after just one or two seasons on the job.
They aren’t firing Pete Carroll, even if 2022 is full of lumps. But it’s possible Carroll, 71 in September, could walk away from the game if he posts his second straight losing season as Seattle kicks off its post-Russell Wilson regime. In that case, who better to shepherd the real rebuild than a proven program-builder like Payton? Even if quarterback remains a question mark going into 2023, Payton might be intrigued at the thought of possessing four premium picks in the first two rounds of the 2024 draft — an opportunity to handpick core pieces to pair with big names like DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie tackle Charles Cross.
Before hiring Josh McDaniels this offseason, Las Vegas was reportedly eyeing a blockbuster trade for a proven name like Payton or Mike Tomlin. Surely they won’t want to win McDaniels even if 2022 is a struggle, but their division is so tough that a last-place finish isn’t out of the question. If things really get ugly, who’s to say Mark Davis won’t crave a bigger, better version of his Jon Gruden gamble, rolling the dice on star power at head coach? Payton, meanwhile, would have the chance to build Vegas’ NFL legacy with an efficient starting QB in Derek Carr, not to mention elite weapons like Davante Adams.
Bruce Arians apparently resigned in order to leave Todd Bowles with a solid setup for his second try as a head coach. So it’d be odd if Tampa Bay axes its internal promotion after just one year. But Tom Brady plays a huge role here, and considering he has the power to test free agency again in 2023, his input may well dictate their moves up top. And remember, both Brady and Payton have danced around rumors that they were set to join forces with the Dolphins after their separate “retirements.” It’s not hard to envision Brady returning again if it means crafting an offense with Payton, who could help TB12 conquer his Saints demons.
Few teams poured as many resources into supporting their young quarterback this offseason as the Jets, but if Robert Saleh doesn’t oversee significant improvement either on the retooled offense or his signature defense, it’s possible management could turn to a proven name for a quicker fix . And Payton, besides offering the QB tutelage that could elevate (or seek to replace) Zach Wilson, knows the New Jersey area well, spending six years between the Eagles and Giants from 1997-2002. In the Jets, he’d get a big market, a young roster that should be on the rise, and a division that may have just one big threat in the Bills.
New coach Matt Eberflus isn’t necessarily set up to succeed in 2022, with young QB Justin Fields saddled with an iffy O-line and weapons. If the results are predictably ugly, new GM Ryan Poles, coming from the Chiefs, could certainly talk himself into a quick swap for an offensive mind, especially with almost $100 million in projected cap space to utilize in 2023. Who better to help spend the money and assemble a real arsenal (with or without Fields) than Payton? Chicago is well known to the coach, who grew up, went to college and played professionally in and around the Windy City.
This one’s been rumored, reported and speculated for years, and for good reason. Owner Jerry Jones likes Payton almost as much as he likes teasing current coach Mike McCarthy’s. McCarthy could actually be on the hot seat if he can’t guide a top-10 quarterback and offense past the wild-card round in his third year at the helm. And Payton has all the right connections: he’s got family in Texas, he alluded to America’s Team in his Saints farewell, the Cowboys are built to win now, and Dallas launched his own head coaching career, serving as his home from 2003-2005.