Whether you think Sean Payton is still one of the best coaches in the NFL, or you think not, one thing is for sure: If Payton and the Saints part ways (and my guess is it could very well happen after the 2017 season), he will have several suitors on the open market.
The offseason coaching hires have once again proven that a quality head coach, with experience, is a commodity. Of the first five head-coach openings filled this offseason, four went to assistant coaches who had never been full-time NFL head coaches.
The Los Angeles Chargers hired 48-year-old Anthony Lynn. The Denver Broncos hired 44-year-old and former Archbishop Shaw Eagle Vance Joseph. The Buffalo Bills hired 42-year-old Sean McDermott. And, the Los Angeles Rams hired 30-year-old Sean McVay.
Of the first five hires, only one – Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone – had significant head-coaching experience.
Marrone, a former Saints assistant, won 15 and lost 17 games in two seasons as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
The above five coaches may all turn out to be outstanding head coaches. But none have the résumé of Payton, who has 100 wins with the Saints, including six in the postseason.
The four-highest paid head coaches in the NFL – Payton, New England’s Bill Belichick, Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Kansas City’s Andy Reid – all had either won at least one Super Bowl or coached in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl on the résumé will get a head coach several mulligans. John Fox reached one Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers. Since then, he’s coached the Denver Broncos (with one Super Bowl appearance) and now the Chicago Bears.
Fox was retained in Chicago for the 2017 season despite winning only nine games the last two years.
So, were there flirtations involving Payton and the Rams? My guess is there were.
The Rams had a lot to offer. They had Southern California sunshine, a rookie quarterback (Jared Goff) with lots of upside, a solid defense and one of the wealthiest owners in the league (Stan Kroenke). Forbes Magazine said, in 2017, Kroenke was worth $7.4 billion.
So, paying $9 million a year for a head coach who has proven he can turn a perennial loser into a big winner was certainly doable for Kroenke.
Payton told WWL Radio he plans to honor the final four years of his contract. But what happens if the Saints miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season?
Quarterback Drew Brees would be a 39-year-old free agent, and the Saints would likely listen to offers for Payton. Sometimes, organizations need to turn the page.
If the Saints win 10 or 11 games next season and make a deep run in the playoffs, the Payton/Brees party will likely continue. If not, both could hit the market with multiple suitors.
The winningest coach in the Saints’ history and a quarterback who has thrown 465 NFL touchdown passes would be an interesting available duo.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.