Sean Payton will be the hottest head coaching candidate this offseason and could have many options to choose from.
That’s the opinion of some sources within the league, given that the head coaching carousel has already ramped up after the Carolina Panthers’ Matt Rhule and Indianapolis Colts’ Frank Reich fired earlier this season.
However, an NFL exec suggests Payton has strict criteria for his next home, having spent a year at NFL On FOX studios following his departure from the New Orleans Saints following the 2021 campaign.
“Payton is by far the front runner,” an NFC human resources executive told The Current News, on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “He wants a young quarterback in place.”
The only hurdle to Payton’s return to the sidelines in 2023 is that the Saints still own his rights, so any team wanting to hire him would have to work out some sort of trade offset with New Orleans. But the executive suggests Payton will have his choice of jobs.
“He can basically land anywhere he wants,” the executive said. “Look at the Denver Broncos, the Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams, the Chargers, the Indianapolis Colts, just keep going and going…”
It remains to be seen how the Saints would handle potentially preventing Payton from taking a job at the NFC South, with the Buccaneers — as the executive has suggested — or with the Carolina Panthers, also mentioned as a potential suitor.
Here are quick thoughts on each of Payton’s potential travel destinations:
Potentially Payton’s ideal landing spot, checking all the boxes of the Super Bowl winner.
Justin Herbert is one of the more gifted quarterbacks in the NFL, and it also feels like Herbert is only scratching the surface of his potential.
The Chargers would give Payton the young quarterback he craves, an elite running back in Austin Ekeler, and a roster full of young talent on both sides of the ball that’s not far from challenging the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC West supremacy .
Few teams have missed more than the 4-8 Arizona Cardinals, and few coaches feel more heat than Kliff Kingsbury.
Kingsbury inked a five-year extension ahead of the 2022 campaign, but this season saw a dramatic setback in Arizona, leaving general manager Steve Keim to look elsewhere.
Arizona offers Kyler Murray who could be a reclamation project for Payton and an offense with talent to be productive; including wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown. The chance of potentially facing his former team in the postseason could also be enticing for Payton.
The Broncos may be the team furthest from genuine competition of those mentioned by the executive.
Russell Wilson was one of the more disappointing playerlet alone quarterbacks, this season. However, Wilson has a Super Bowl ring on his finger and Payton has previously hinted he has a plan to try to reverse the fortunes of the quarterback and the Broncos.
“I want a breakdown of all of Russell’s passing plays at 30 yards or more from the field and I want to see if there are some schemes that he’s very comfortable with.” Payton said about The Herd with Colin Cowherd. “For example, I know they did a great job in Seattle getting him out of a bare boot[leg] and then pull up and we all saw that as a setback [receiver Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball flew 60 yards in the air.
“Then I want to watch another movie of his touchdown passes in the red zone within the 20. And what I ask of assistants, I ask for some of his greatest hits and to make sure we have these lyrics available. And if not, we use them.”
There’s no doubt Payton would represent a significant improvement in terms of performance and competency over current head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who is currently sitting in the hottest hot seats.
If Payton believes in Wilson and the Walton family buy-in to spend what it takes to land top free agents to turn the Broncos around, it could be a quicker fix than most believe.
If Payton is aiming for a rebuild, the Colts in his image make sense.
This is an offense that features an All-Pro running back from Jonathan Taylor and plenty of talent at all three levels on defense, but there’s no long-term solution for the quarterback.
Entering Week 13, the Colts sit 4-7-1, probably just within reach of one of the top quarterback prospects, which could mean trading for a veteran — again, the only route to proficiency at the position.
However, Payton would have one of the easiest routes into the postseason of any division in football if he can turn the Colts around.
This was easily the most disappointing season of the Sean McVay era for the Los Angeles Rams.
If McVay decides to retire, which he has hinted at in the past, Payton has the pedigree to quickly lead the Rams back to the top of the NFC Super Bowl contenders.
Perhaps the most important obstacle to Payton’s landing in Los Angeles is the fact that the 2023 Rams don’t have a first-round pick and ability to strike a blockbuster deal, which the Saints could need to get Payton released from his contract.
However, Payton at the head of the Rams with an experienced quarterback, a strong defense and working with a general manager who isn’t afraid to go all-in would be an intriguing scenario to unfold.