The Sean Payton train and rumors are starting to heat up as the New Orleans Saints look to find their former head coach a new home. There are multiple teams that have shown significant interest and have even interviewed to this point with the coach.
A couple of the organizations wishing to acquire Payton are in the opposing conference like the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. The Arizona Cardinals are a team that resides in the NFC like the Saints, but an in-division foe also seeks to obtain the Super Bowl-winning coach in the Carolina Panthers.
We will break down each team, why it makes sense for Payton to go to that organization, and what the Black and Gold could realistically get in a deal:
In this situation, Payton starting the next chapter of his coaching career in Denver means he would have to do the least amount of rebuilding. The defense of the Broncos ranks in the top half and is better in almost every category.
The offense on paper has been constructed very well with playmakers everywhere. There wasn’t much production from that side of the football as the Broncos finished the season 5-12. However, once former head coach Nathaniel Hackett was let go, the offense and quarterback Russell Wilson started to cook the final two games, losing a close 27-24 game versus the current number one seed Kansas City Chiefs and defeating a Los Angeles Chargers team who made the playoffs 31-28, gaining 471 scrimmage yards, their best offensive outing since week one versus the Seattle Seahawks.
A realistic trade package would be the 29th overall pick from the Bradley Chubb trade with the Dolphins and their fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL draft in exchange for the coach. It could be one of their two third-rounders if the bidding war gets high enough.
Arizona is a compelling destination as they have their quarterback situation locked up with 25-year-old Kyler Murray. Murray did tear his ACL late this season which could delay his debut for the 2023 season and he won’t likely be as explosive as the pre-injured Murray until 2024 or later.
They do have some guys that can make plays catching the ball who are both young and experienced. Players like DeAndre Hopkins and Zach Ertz will make an impact in the short term, while Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore are pieces for the long term.
In addition to having his quarterback and some nice weapons on offense and defense, Payton could help be a part of the search to fill the Cardinals’ empty General Manager position.
For the Cardinals, I could see their offer being the number 35 pick in this year’s draft and their first-round pick in 2024. They’ve got the third overall pick in this year’s draft, but it’s not very likely they’d want to give up a pick that valuable for a coach.
Another team located in the same conference as the Saints are in the sweepstakes. Not only in the same conference as New Orleans, but in the same division. The Panthers have a lot of draft picks to work with for a potential trade and still rebuild as they’ve traded some of their best players like Christian McCaffrey to open up cap space.
Even with a question mark about who will be under center in 2023, this would give the coach the availability to recruit whoever he wants to run his offense. In the offense, the Panthers have DJ Moore as the alpha in the receiver room and started working to rebuild the offensive line by drafting tackle Ikem Ekwonu in the 2022 draft. The defense looks solid with anchors at every level with edge rusher Brian Burns, linebacker Shaq Thompson, cornerback Jaycee Horn, and safety Jeremy Chinn. Getting the coach and quarterback situated would make Carolina a candidate for being a team that could make the playoffs next season.
With the Panthers being divisional foes, the price rises exponentially for them since the Saints would have to see a Payton-led team at least twice per year compared to maybe once a season with the Cardinals, or every two to four years with the Texans or Broncos. Carolina would likely have to give up at least their next two first-round picks, a second, and a third-rounder between the next two drafts to convince Mickey Loomis to keep Payton in the NFC South.
The Texans are another opposing conference team heavily in the race for Sean Payton. This would be the first plus for the Saints since they wouldn’t be concerned about facing him as often as they would the Panthers and Cardinals.
Houston makes things more interesting because they have good young pieces like former LSU Tiger cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., running back Dameon Pierce, and wide receiver John Metchie, who has reportedly made significant progress after being diagnosed with Leukemia. The rest of the defense and most of the offense needs improvement. Luckily they’ve got cap space and draft capital to work with. If Payton is looking to flex his rebuilding skills as he did for New Orleans in 2006, the Texans would be the place to do it.
The Saints could see a package of the number 12 overall and the 73rd overall pick in this year’s draft that the Texans got from Cleveland in the Deshaun Watson deal in exchange for the coach’s services.
Depending on how the Saints view their odds of making a real impact on the 2023 season, they could bypass any of these deals that include selections in this draft coming up in favor of any picks in the 2024 draft.
The most intriguing spot for Payton feels like the Texans with all of the draft capital and cap space to sign free agents, but the history of winning, the established veteran players, and still having a good amount of draft picks for the future in Denver feels like the best place for coach Payton to choose. It is also the ideal location to try and win in a very competitive AFC West division and conference.
Sure, Houston could make a lot of noise down the line but if Payton is coming out of retirement, he’s likely looking for a team that can turn into a contender right away. “Fixing” Wilson and working with an offense that could function like the glory days of the Saints offense makes the most sense and is where I believe Sean Payton will land.