This week’s New Orleans Saints news cycle isn’t focused on the team so much as its former head coach; general manager Mickey Loomis ensured that Sean Payton would own the spotlight by taking a week off to defuse any high-strung emotions before making decisions on the coaching staff and offseason strategy.
At this point we know the big players in Payton’s sweepstakes. The Denver Broncos have scheduled an in-person interview with him as soon as NFL rules allow them to meet, and both the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans have received permission to talk with Payton about their vacancies. Other teams could emerge after this weekend’s wild-card playoff round, but those are the big three right now.
So what would a trade with them look like? New Orleans will get some compensation back once Payton has chosen his next team, and they reportedly want a first round pick and additional draft assets as part of that deal (remember, players can’t be involved in coach trades). That’s led to plenty of speculation and daydreaming about the Saints getting a king’s ransom in return, so here’s a proposal for each team.
With apologies to fans thinking big about a Jon Gruden-style return (two first round picks, two second round picks, and his $8 million in remaining salary), this situation is different, and even though Payton should be valued at the same level, New Orleans shouldn’t anticipate something that lofty. There hasn’t been a comparable trade in 20 years, and it’s not like the Saints have a lot of leverage here. If Payton only okays one team, they’ll have to take that offer.
That also takes the second- and third-overall picks in the 2023 draft off the board. Crazy things have happened before in the NFL, but it would be wild to see either of those picks (owned by Houston and Arizona, respectively) go to New Orleans. For one thing, Payton is going to want to have those picks in his own pocket once he’s hired as head coach. Sorry if that feels like being dunked in cold water, but it’s better to keep expectations grounded in hopes of being surprised than to set them too high and end up being disappointed.
Okay, enough of that disclaimer. Here are three trade proposals for sending Payton to the Broncos, Texans, or Cardinals:
2023 first round pick (No. 29)
2023 third round pick (No. 68)
2024 second round pick
This might be my favorite trade package out of the group. The Saints are without a second rounder next year (it conveys to the Philadelphia Eagles) so getting back on the board in that frame is big. A late pick in this year’s first round isn’t ideal but it’s still an upgrade from where they started, and it’s slightly balanced out by that early selection in the third round. Taken with the picks already in hand, this trade proposal leaves New Orleans with picks at Nos. 29, 40, 68, and 71. That’s prime territory to find immediate contributors.
2023 first round pick (No. 12)
2023 fourth round pick (No. 103)
2024 fourth round pick
It isn’t a top-three pick, but it’s still a first rounder, and the Saints should be able to target a quarterback they like from No. 12 (or move up further if they feel it’s necessary). Whether they’re Will Levis truthers or Anthony Richardson believers, it’s a good spot to get one of this year’s quality second-tier passers behind C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young. It’s also a very useful bargaining chip if the Saints want to flip it in another trade. Adding a couple of fourth rounders helps further bolster their assets pool.
2023 fourth round pick (No. 114)
2023 second round pick (No. 34)
2023 fourth round pick (No. 104)
2024 first round pick
This is probably the most lopsided trade, but that’s the extra tax for trading within the conference coming into play. The Saints still get the first rounder they covet, even if it’s a cycle away, but an early selection in this year’s second round is an excellent consolation prize. Making a modest move up the board in the fourth round better positions New Orleans to grab a falling talent on draft day. Odds are Payton could guide Arizona into the playoffs next year, but if Kyler Murray’s knee injury lingers this suddenly looks like a savvy move.