Sean Payton surprised the NFL world on Tuesday when he decided to step away after 15 seasons coaching the Saints. He won a Super Bowl with New Orleans and presided over the team’s most successful era with Drew Brees at quarterback.
Now, Payton is gone, but other fan bases around the NFL are questioning just how long he might stay off the sidelines. And if he does return to coaching, would he have an interest in the Cowboys’ job should it become available? Or the Bears’ opening?
Meanwhile, at least one TV network is eyeing Payton for a potential top role in its broadcast booth. So, if he opts not to return to the sidelines, he will have options there as well.
So, what’s next for Sean Payton? Here’s a breakdown of what the former Saints coach might do with his time in New Orleans now over.
RIVERA: Why Sean Payton is stepping away, explained
Is Sean Payton coaching in 2022?
It doesn’t look like Payton will be coaching in 2022. NFL.com first reported that Payton would take 2022 off if he left the Saints and use it as a “mini-retirement.”
That lined up with what Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, who is close with Payton, reported. Payton just “needs a break.”
Sean Payton was wrestling with stepping away for a year or two or retirement months. Told Mrs B couple of weeks ago & she asked him to take some time off and think about it. He’s gone up and down about it for a while too but the theme I got more than not is that he needs a break
— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) January 25, 2022
Payton himself confirmed that his “plans are not to be coaching in 2022” during his news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Payton said. “I don’t like the word retirement. I still have a vision for doing things in football. That might be coaching again, but that’s not where my heart is right now.”
That didn’t stop teams from expressing an interest in Payton, however. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reports that even before Payton’s announcement, teams considered making a move to get him.
There were teams who knew that Sean Payton was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next and that he wanted to possibly leave New Orleans. Based on multiple conversations with league sources, there were teams that explored ways to make a move and hire the 58 year old.
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) January 25, 2022
So, what’s the takeaway here? Payton will have opportunities to coach if and when he returns to the NFL. That’s hardly a surprise, given that he posted a 152-89 career record with the Saints and never logged worse than a 7-9 season in New Orleans.
That said, teams that are hiring coaches right now — such as the Bears and the Dolphins — probably shouldn’t be too excited about Payton being free. He doesn’t seem likely to take another coaching job right now, so unless both of those teams are looking for another new head coach next year — which would be less than ideal given that both franchises are looking to develop young quarterbacks — they will probably not land Payton.
However, fans of teams that have a coach on the hot seat right now, such as the Cowboys and Panthers, could be a bit excited about Payton. If things go south in 2022 and Mike McCarthy and Matt Rhule are sent packing, each team could make a bid for Payton. The Cowboys may be the most logical landing spot considering that Payton was Dallas’ assistant head coach under Bill Parcells from 2003 to 2005 before he took the Saints’ job.
That possibility should be enough to excite Cowboys fans, but they should also temper expectations. Why? First and foremost, Payton’s return isn’t a foregone conclusion. Second, even if he does return, there are some complicating factors with his contract that could influence which teams are willing to pursue him come 2023.
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Sean Payton contract details
Payton signed a contract with the Saints in 2019 that made him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL. It was a five-year pact that paid him roughly $9 million annually. He made it through just two of those seasons before opting to step away.
However, Payton will still be under contract for the next three years despite leaving. As such, if he wants to return to the NFL in 2023, the Saints will still own his rights for at least another season.
What does that mean? A team would have to compensate the Saints to hire Payton, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Sean Payton is under contract through 2024 with the #Saints. If another team wanted to swoop it, they would need to compensate New Orleans. But that’s a conversation for next offseason. https://t.co/7v8gr8GW0c
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 25, 2022
That may not necessarily be a dealbreaker for a team looking to hire Payton, but it would certainly complicate the matter. NFL teams don’t like giving up draft capital even for proven resources. However, teams have swapped high-priced resources more in recent offseasons, so perhaps if a team viewed Payton as enough of a difference-maker, it could pursue him.
Payton’s contract won’t run out until after the 2024 season, so this issue will be there if any team wants to hire Payton over the next three years.
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Will Sean Payton replace Troy Aikman at Fox?
Of course, that’s assuming that Payton wants to return to coaching. He may just need a brief recharge, as he indicated, but if he lands in the TV industry, he may not want to return to the sidelines.
Payton is expected to have potential on-air opportunities when he’s finished coaching. Front Office Sports reports that Fox is expected to make a push for him if it doesn’t retain Troy Aikman.
Aikman, who is in the final year of his contract at Fox, is rumored to be a target of Amazon, which has the rights to “Thursday Night Football” games starting next year. If he leaves, Fox is expected to have an interest in hiring Payton as a replacement and potential partner for Joe Buck.
“[Fox] has to go big if they need to replace Troy,” Eric Weinberger, former senior producer at Fox Sports, told Front Office Sports.
Fox notably offered Payton a job during the 2012 NFL season, when he was suspended the full year as part of the Bountygate scandal. Thus, it’s unsurprising that the network would go after him with his coaching career over for the time being.
Payton says he hasn’t heard from any media outlet, but he thinks he’d be pretty good at it if an opportunity comes along.
“I’ve not spoken to anyone from a media outlet relative to doing television or radio,” Payton said. “Maybe that opportunity arises, but every time I read something that says, ‘He’s in line for this job,’ I’ll call my agent Don and say, ‘Don have you heard anything?’ He said, ‘I’ve not heard anything.’ I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it.”