Sean Payton is chasing NFL coaches on the hot seat

Sean Payton

Sean Payton
Image: Getty Images

It’s rare to read scuttlebutt about what a coach wants to do. The job market for unemployed coaches usually works the other way around. Jobs are opening up, many coaching candidates are entering the interview lobby. Sean Payton is in a unique position where he can make shots.

Payton is a transcendent offensive lineman. During his time in New Orleans, the Saints finished first in total offense six times in 16 seasons, led the league in scoring twice, and led the league in scoring four times and in the top three. Between 2006 and 2018, they gained more yards than any team in NFL history in a 12-year span. Then, like the Avatar, he disappeared.

Instead, the Saints attacked. He rose to quarterback heaven as a studio analyst for FOX. But unlike most retired coaches, we never buried Payton’s career. It was believed that he would eventually return after a sabbatical, perhaps in 2023. He tried to fill the vacancy in Miami and lure the “retired” Tom Brady to the city, but this plan did not work out. Since then, he has made a choice dissemination of domestic football knowledge instead on Colin Cowherd’s couch.

This could not last. According to ESPN NFL reporters Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler, Payton narrowed his focus at the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. Somewhere in Dallas, Mike McCarthy breathed a sigh of relief as the wind swept across the city.

Payton has options, and he’s wisely committed to teams with franchise quarterbacks. Los Angeles has the most stable quarterback situation. However, they are sorely lacking in attacking ingenuity and mishandling Justin Herbert. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi bullied Herbert. After being hailed for his deadly downfield passing during his first two trips around the NFL sun, Chad Pennington suddenly developed a passing profile.

Arizona’s problems have been well documented, and Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive genius has been overstated. He doesn’t buy advantage of the snap action, his teams disisolve in the second half season and relationship with it the midfielder is turbulent. However, the offensive line in Arizona is underutilized. Murray’s size may be a bit of a hindrance, but Payton has shown what he can do with a small signal caller over 15 seasons with Drew Brees. If the Cardinals are going to invest $230 million in Murray, they might as well spend money on all the reserves.

Kingsbury’s paint-by-numbers spread offense scheme doesn’t cut it, but Payton is a master tailor. The bespoke offense Murray will develop should have enough doohickies to keep defenses honest and get Cardinals playmakers in the open field or in the open field.

But there is one obstacle. In return, the team that hires him will owe the New Orleans Saints compensation in the form of a pick. Herm Edwards and Jon Gruden are the most productive coaches to be acquired at contract term. In 2006, Edwards was released from his contract to become the head coach of the Chiefs. The Chiefs traded a fourth-round pick. Then, in 2002, the Raiders traded Jon Gruden to the Buccaneers in exchange for Tampa’s first-round picks in the next two drafts, as well as second-round picks in 2002 and 2004. Tampa won the Super Bowl the first year.

Payton reports that Brandon Staley and Kingsbury in particular should be concerned. Staley’s Chargers offense has struggled this season, but he has generated more goodwill in Los Angeles than half of Kingsbury. Kingsbury was hired as an offensive guru, but the Cardinals have never been a top-10 scoring team.

Payton’s name has been floating around the Dallas case before. From the sounds, Payton saw the Cowboys beat the Vikings and realized he had to have a backup plan.

However, #PaytonWatch has hovered around vulnerable coaches all season long like some kind of ghost-hunting teams. Throw in a two-game losing streak and you’ll feel Payton’s presence in the room, even though he’s long past the active NFL coaching world. That could extend another year, as Payton is under contract with New Orleans through 2024, but active coaches are hoping Sean Payton will sacrifice coaching on the altar and turn down the heat on the rest.