Sean Payton is a hot head coach candidate this hiring cycle, but his status with the New Orleans Saints complicates the situation.
Payton still has two seasons remaining on his contract with the Saints, so any team that hires him would have to compensate New Orleans in a trade. It’s not very common, but coach trades have happened in the NFL.
The Saints are seeking two first-round draft picks (and more) in exchange for Payton, according to Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune. New Orleans desiring a pair of first-round picks doesn’t mean they will get them, though, especially after Payton himself acknowledged that the Saints would likely get a mid- to late-first-round pick in a potential trade.
The Denver Broncos have a late first-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers (through the Miami Dolphins) from the Bradley Chubb trade.
Payton is believed to be seeking $20-$25 million per year, according to Duncan. Denver’s ownership group has not hesitated to spend big to improve the team, so Payton’s salary demands would not be a drawback.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, the second-richest owner in the NFL behind the Broncos’ Rob Walton, is willing to give Payton “just about anything he wants,” according to Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
Payton is scheduled to meet with Tepper in New York at the end of the week. He previously had an in-person interview with Denver’s front office in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
“Payton was particularly impressed with the Broncos group, who he met with for several hours,” according to Duncan. “He likes majority owner Rob Walton and the management team he has assembled in Denver.“
More than one reporter has indicated that Payton has been impressed by the Broncos’ new ownership group.
“The Broncos remain in very strong position to be able to get Sean Payton, whatever the interest level by other teams,” Maske tweeted on Wednesday. “They have the NFL’s wealthiest owners. Payton has told associates that he likes the Broncos’ stable ownership and is willing to work with Russell Wilson.”
Payton spoke about the possibility of working with Wilson in an interview with Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports last fall, and Wilson spoke glowingly about the coach after Denver’s season finale earlier this month.
The Broncos’ quarterback situation does not appear to be a hindrance for their pursuit of Payton, and the ownership group could prove to be an advantage. Payton has reiterated multiple times in interviews that a team’s ownership situation will be the biggest factor in his decision.
Payton had a virtual interview with the Houston Texans on Monday. Payton then had a conversation with Cowherd, a Fox colleague, later in the week. After that conversation with Payton, Cowherd had this to say on FS1:
“Even on Zoom calls, you can spot the dysfunction,” Cowherd said of teams with poor ownership groups. Coincidence? It’s easy to connect the dots and infer that Cowherd was speaking of the Texans, but that is, of course, just speculation.
Meanwhile, with the Panthers, Tepper is willing to pay big for Payton, but “[i]t’s not clear, however, how enthusiastic Payton is at this point about the opportunity in Carolina,” according to Maske.
So where does that leave us?
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero had this to say during an episode of The Insiders on Tuesday: “It sure seems like, though, if Sean Payton is going to take a job in this cycle, everything is lining up for Denver.”
This all sounds promising for the Broncos’ chances of landing Payton, but fans should not overlook a key line from Pelissero: “if Sean Payton is going to take a job in this cycle.” Payton has hinted that remaining with Fox for another year is a real possibility, and the cost of trading for him would go down considerably if he waits until 2024 to return to coaching.
If Payton decides to take a job this year, though, Denver seems to be the favorite to land the Super Bowl-winning coach.