Sean Payton-Saints Reunion On Table; Broncos, Panthers Not In Play?

With a third coach firing going down this week, Sean Payton smoke keeps emerging. The Super Bowl-winning coach has given a few interviews indicating a desire to coach again, and it could happen as soon as 2023.

Payton will be coveted by every team with a coaching vacancy, but an unexpected reunion is generating buzz. The Saints potentially bringing back Payton is “the worst-kept secret” in NFL circles, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. Payton is indeed open to a New Orleans return, according to Jeff Duncan of

The Saints were forced to conduct a coaching search weeks after other HC-seeking teams went through theirs, after Payton stepped down from his 16-year gig. They ended up promoting Dennis Allen, giving the ex-Raiders HC a second chance. Although the Saints are still in contention for the NFC South title, they are 6-9 and could hit double-digit losses for the first time since 2005 — the franchise’s final pre-Payton year. GM Mickey Loomis and owner Gayle Benson are strong supporters of Allen, per Duncan, who notes Payton’s longtime DC is well-liked throughout the organization.

It would make for a historically unusual move for the Saints and Payton to reunite after one year apart, but Loomis remains close with his former coworker. And the Saints hold Payton’s rights through 2024. It would be interesting to see if another team was willing to make a substantial trade offer for Payton, Florio adds that if Payton coaches anywhere next season, it will be back in New Orleans. A source that spoke with Duncan offers the same prediction.

Payton has already begun work on assembling a staff and has studied rosters and cap situations around the league, per Duncan, so it should not be assumed the Saints — who have featured a rather notable roster issue since Drew Brees‘ retirement — have a runaway lead here. But them being back in the mix sets the table for what would be one of the most fascinating transactions in modern coaching history.

Payton, 58, has been connected to a few teams, but avenues toward the positions that cropped up this offseason are closing. The Cowboys and Chargers are heading to the playoffs, and while neither Mike McCarthy nor Brandon Staley are locks to return, both are likely to stay on in their present roles. The Dolphins, as you may have heard, caused quite a stir by showing interest in Payton — to the point they were docked first- and third-round picks for tampering with he and Tom Brady. Although Mike McDaniel‘s team is fading, it would surprise if Stephen Ross made him a one-and-done given the progress Tua Tagovailoa has made this season.

The Broncos and Panthers are both believed to be interested in Payton, but Florio adds neither team appeals to the current FOX analyst. (The Saints trading Payton to the Panthers is a near-impossible scenario to envision as well.) Payton returning to New Orleans would seemingly wall off a quest to become the first head coach to win Super Bowls with two different teams. Several HCs — Don Shula, Dick Vermeil, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, Mike Holmgren, John Fox and Andy Reid — have coached two franchises to Super Bowls, but none has negotiated the hurdle of winning it with both.

Returning to New Orleans would also mean a renewed search to find a long-term Brees successor, and the recent report of Payton eyeing Vic Fangio to be his defensive coordinator upon returning further complicates Allen’s status. Allen enjoyed two tours under Payton with the Saints, being the team’s secondary coach from 2008-10 and its DC from 2015-21. Another report indicated Allen was likely safe from being a one-and-done, but Payton being back in play could certainly change that.

At the end of an unremarkable season, it appears the Saints will be a central figure in the 2023 offseason. They may have the chance to rehire the best head coach in team history or trade him for a package that could include a first-round pick.

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