By all accounts, Sean Payton wants to coach the Chargers.
Rumors have been swirling for weeks about the link between Payton and Los Angeles. But an ESPN article released on Wednesday has accelerated the rumblings, going as far as to say that Payton “circling around the Chargers” is one of the league’s “worst-kept secrets.”
The article, written by Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler, suggests that Brandon Staley could be on the hot seat if the Bolts miss the playoffs. Currently, at 5-5, L.A. is one game out of the playoff picture with two games against AFC playoff teams still on the schedule.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise: Staley was hired as a defensive head coach, and his defense has not performed to expectations. He seems to have erred on his offensive coordinator hire and has changed his ideology on fourth down.
As for Payton, Graziano and Fowler floated the possibility that the former Saints coach would “wait that one out,” suggesting that if Staley isn’t fired after this season, Payton would take another year off and monitor the situation.
The reasoning is fairly simple: the Chargers have, by far, the most talent of any team whose coaching job might come open. That starts with Justin Herbert, and Graziano says in the article that he has the “sense” that Payton will want a job with a stable quarterback situation.
Again, this makes sense: Payton just retired to avoid a tenuous quarterback situation in New Orleans. His possible return to coaching seems to be more about winning rings than finding the next generation’s superstar signal-caller.
Of note, Graziano and Fowler also mentioned the Cardinals as a possible Payton destination. Arizona is 4-7, seem to have terrible team chemistry, and Kliff Kingsbury’s job has been subject to the rumor. This could make Sunday’s matchup with Arizona a “Payton Bowl” of sorts.
The key thing to remember here is that any team that wants to hire Payton will need to compensate both him and the Saints, who still hold his rights under his contract. Since Payton retired and was not fired, he technically has to be traded to any new team he’d like to coach for. What that trade looks like is unclear, but many around the league believe the asking price will be around a first-round pick. This brings us to the key question about Payton and the Chargers: would the Spanos family be willing to pay up?
Ultimately, I think yes. The Spanoses are cheap, we know this. But they’re also businessmen. The writing on the wall is clear: hiring Payton gives the team a real chance to gain a sizable foothold in L.A., especially with the Rams on the decline with rumors of Sean McVay and Aaron Donald retiring. It’s a huge opportunity to make back the money and assets you’d spend on hiring Payton.
If you think that the Chargers should avoid paying such assets, Graziano and Fowler also mention former Colts head coach Frank Reich, 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, among others, as candidates generating real buzz.