Look, I want Sean Payton back coaching in the NFL as much as the next casual stan of his. Payton is one of the most innovative, dynamic play-callers of the modern era and oversaw a powerhouse offense with the New Orleans Saints under Drew Brees' direction. While the news of Payton assembling a Thanos Infinity Gauntlet of prestigious assistants to join him at his next stop is exciting, I just don't see an obvious landing spot for him.
Maybe that's what makes Payton's prospective return to the coaching ranks so fascinating. Which teams would totally recalibrate the way they view their incumbent coaches based on the mere fact that Payton is available — and is keen on bringing an excellent staff in with him? Whomever is lucky enough to land Payton, according to Schefty, will potentially have to cough up multiple draft picks since the Saints still own his rights for the time being.
Given that you need draft picks to rebuild a roster and that Payton is probably headed to a spot that'll need a massive overhaul, I wonder who'll be willing to do that and have the ownership bankroll to maybe make him the highest-paid coach in the sport or thereabouts.
The data and Payton's Lombardi Trophy suggest he'd be worth the steep price.
Doug Pederson did something very similar to what Payton seems intent on doing, taking a one-year hiatus from coaching before landing the Jaguars gig. At least in that case, Pederson had a surefire stud in Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Unclear where Payton can find such a guy right now, if anywhere.
You might label the second chunk of my blog headline self-evident. Like, "DUH, SEAN PAYTON'S POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS ARE UNAPPEALING. THAT'S WHY COACHES GET FIRED IN THE FIRST PLACE."
Touché. Except in Pederson's case and in many other coaching cycles before his, there are always at least one to three landing spots per year that look desirable. I don't really see any right now.
The obvious vacancies at the minute are Carolina and Indianapolis. I feel like Payton would be a little reluctant about going to the Panthers since they share a division with New Orleans, although their aggressive owner David Tepper and a sound defensive foundation are strong selling points. Then you have the Colts, who can't get the quarterback right and just blew a 33-0 lead. They are far away from being relevant.
Could Payton land in Houston, where he'd likely have the No. 1 overall pick? Seems like a toxic organization if you ask me. At least Jack Easterby is gone though! Plus, if Payton can stomach a terrible 2023, he'd have a real chance to grab USC QB and reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams atop the 2024 NFL Draft.
Presuming Vic Fangio will be Payton's defensive coordinator, I can't imagine Vic is keen to return to Denver after failing as the Broncos' head honcho. Then you factor in how poorly Russell Wilson has played in 2022, and it's not the most attractive vacancy in the event Nathaniel Hackett goes one-and-done.
Unless the Los Angeles Chargers improbably miss the playoffs, I doubt they fire Brandon Staley in favor of Payton. Bolts legend Antonio Gates downplayed the possibility very recently.
Guess you never know. That's a no-brainer if Staley gets the pink slip and the only spot I'd see Payton really gravitating towards simply due to the opportunity to work with Justin Herbert.
Finally, you have the Arizona Cardinals. They could very well move on from Kliff Kingsbury, as a lengthy ESPN feature that dropped yesterday delved into.
I just don't know if Payton would be willing to put up with Kyler Murray's bullshit, much less deal with a potential disaster season next year while Kyler recovers from a torn ACL.
Every year there are surprises on the coaching carousel and at least one or two guys who get fired that everyone's surprised by. Maybe one of those teams is where Payton winds up, because holy hell, there are serious drawbacks to all the clubhouse leading destinations for him to choose from.
Then again, Payton landed in New Orleans back in 2003 when Hurricane Katrina hit, dealt with all that real-life adversity on top of overhauling the Saints' culture, and promptly led them to the NFC Championship Game in his maiden season at the helm. The question is, can Payton work that kind of immediate magic in his second stop without a QB like Brees at his side from the jump? Can't wait to see how it plays out regardless of what happens.
Were I to guess where Payton decides to coach if he does indeed make his return in 2023, here are my rankings in order of where he's most likely to go:
- Houston Texans
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Arizona Cardinals
- Carolina Panthers
- Indianapolis Colts
Sound off in the comments below on where you think Payton's best fit is.