Sean Payton stepped down from his role with the New Orleans Saints in 2021 and he is now drawing interest from other teams who are seeking a head coach.
Payton still has two more years remaining on his contract with the Saints, so if a team hires him, that club will have to compensate New Orleans in a trade in order to acquire Payton’s coaching rights.
The Denver Broncos are among the teams who have received permission from the Saints to interview Payton, and they have scheduled an in-person interview for Jan. 17. If that interview goes well and the Broncos want to hire Payton, they will have to work out a deal with New Orleans.
It doesn’t happen often, but trading for a coach is not unprecedented in the NFL.
This is not an exhaustive list of every coach trade in pro football history, but it includes seven examples of coach trades since the league’s NFL/AFL merger in 1970.
1. Don Shula: 1970
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The Dolphins poached Shula from the Colts before the 1970 season. It wasn’t originally a trade, but the NFL ruled that Miami violated tampering rules and made the team send a first-round pick to Baltimore in exchange for the coach’s rights. The trade ended up working out well for all parties involved.
2. Bill Parcells: 1997
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After he stepped down from his role with the Patriots, the Jets found a roundabout way to hire Parcells without breaking NFL rules by initially saying he wasn’t the head coach. New England didn’t buy it and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in to broker a deal that saw New York trade first-, second-, third- and fourth-round draft picks to the Patriots over the next two years in exchange for Parcells’ head coach rights. It was a complicated ordeal, one that Parcells regrets in hindsight.
3. Mike Holmgren: 1999
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The Seahawks poached Holmgren from the Packers by luring him away with a big contract and general manager duties in addition to his head coach role. Because he still had one year left on his contract with Green Bay, Seattle had to trade a second-round pick to the Packers.
4. Bill Belichick: 2000
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In 2000, the Patriots agreed to trade first-, fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to the Jets in exchange for Belichick. The trade received bad reviews in the press at the time, but it turned out to be a brilliant move for New England as Belichick went on to win six Super Bowls with the Patriots.
5. Jon Gruden: 2002
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The Buccaneers agreed to trade two first-round and two second-round picks plus $8 million to the Raiders in exchange for Gruden in 2002. When Gruden later returned to the Raiders in 2018, he claimed that he never wanted to leave. The trade worked out for Gruden and Bucs, though, as they won Super Bowl XXXVII in Gruden’s first year with the team.
6. Herm Edwards: 2006
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The Chiefs traded a fourth-round pick to the Jets for Edwards in 2006. New York used that pick to select running back/kick returner Leon Washington. Kansas City then went 15-33 in three years before firing Edwards in 2009.
7. Bruce Arians: 2019
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Arians stepped down from his head coach job with the Cardinals in 2017. Two years later, he decided to return to coaching and joined the Buccaneers. Because he was still under contract with Arizona, Tampa Bay sent a sixth-round pick to the Cardinals in exchange for Arians and a seventh-round pick. He won Super Bowl LV with the Bucs in his second season on the job.
The trade that didn't happen: Jim Harbaugh in 2014
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Arians is the most recent example of a head coach trade in the NFL, but another trade almost happened in 2014. The Browns “made a real play” for then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, offering a pair of third-round picks, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer. Harbaugh himself ultimately decided against the trade, and he later become Michigan’s head coach in 2015.
Harbaugh is also a candidate for Denver’s head coach opening, and unlike Payton, it wouldn’t take a trade to hire him.
Sean Payton up next?
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In addition to the Broncos, the Texans and Cardinals have also received permission from the Saints to interview Payton. New Orleans is believed to be seeking at least a first-round pick in exchange for the coach.