The Saints are knee deep in the worst stretch of the Sean Payton era. While some of you might recall the Bountygate era being worse, the results on the field from that time period pale in comparison. Since a big win on the road at Carolina last season that catapulted the Saints back to a 4-4 record (after starting 1-3) and gave the Saints 1st place in the NFC South, the Saints are a lowly 4-9 which includes a 1-7 home record. One of those 4 wins, mind you, was basically a forfeit by the Tampa Bay Bucs in week 17 in a game they had before giving it away to secure the 1st overall pick. And if you watched any of the 39-17 annihilation in Philadelphia this weekend, the Saints looked like a bad football team at best. Only a narrow overtime win over a Dallas Cowboys team missing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Sean Lee has prevented them from being winless in 2015. So it’s fair to say with a declining Drew Brees and an offseason of unloading massive contracts, the Saints are in full rebuild mode as they try to clear out their cap mess. It will be interesting to see how much more change occurs in the upcoming offseason. And will Sean Payton even be around to see a second phase of his tenure beyond Drew Brees? If not, the Saints would be smart to trade him.
If you’re familiar with the Saints organization, you know that general manager Mickey Loomis is the right hand man of owner Tom Benson. Loomis not only runs the Saints, he’s also heavily involved in other business interests of Benson’s, most notably the New Orleans Pelicans. As far as job security goes, Benson will forever remember Loomis as the GM that brought a Super Bowl title to his small market team. More importantly, Benson has been burned by many people he trusted over the years including his own family. So he knows true trust is hard to come by… and Loomis has earned it. Benson’s relationship with Loomis goes beyond any success on the field. Faith in Loomis guiding the Saints through any form of a rebuilding process, right or wrong, is very high – and for that reason there is little to no chance he might lose his job. The same goes for Payton, really. His relationship with both Loomis and Benson is very strong and the two would have ultimate confidence in Payton being the man for the job to take this Saints team back to the playoffs eventually. After all, he’s already turned a losing team into a playoff contender three separate times (2006, 2009 and 2013). The Saints revamped their scouting staff significantly in the offseason, indirectly finger pointing player evaluation as responsible for the recent lack of success. Based on recent drafts, that’s a reasonable stance as only one player remains on the team from the 2014 class. There are more players from the 2006 draft class on the 53 man roster than there are from any other besides 2015. That being said, the revamp has already started in a lot of ways, and a strong 2015 draft class so far suggests the Saints might be on the right path with their new approach. This lends itself to Payton staying and the likelihood of him getting fired regardless of how bad this season gets is low.
Therefore, it’s fairly clear Payton will stay in New Orleans if he wants to.
While Nick Saban and many others have taught us to never take coaches at their word, Payton told Katherine Terrell of the Times Picayune this week:
“I don’t know what else to say. I love it here. I’m close to my children. I just built a brand new place here. You get tired of answering the questions and yet I understand you asking, and I’ll say what I said before. This is where I see myself, and I’ve said that now for however many years.”
Even with this quote, the only way out of New Orleans for Sean Payton is if he wants to leave. It’s highly unlikely he’d be fired under any scenario, especially when you consider the demand he would garner on an open market. Even if the Saints wanted to fire Payton, they’d be smart to not so they can get something for him. Payton is under contract with the Saints through 2017. And if he does want to leave, there’s only one true scenario and that’s the Saints asking for a king’s ransom. It’s already clear the Miami Dolphins are ready to pounce, and they should be added to a long list of teams that also may include the Colts. You’ll remember the Patriots landed Bill Belichick for a 1st, 4th and 7th, giving away a 5th and 7th in return. The Raiders shipped out Jon Gruden to the Bucs, on the other hand, for two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks and $8 million in cash. Any return the Saints would get on Sean Payton would likely be in the middle and since they’re in a full blown rebuild that would certainly arm Loomis and any new head coach with a terrific head start.
Sean Payton was a Super Bowl champion coach less than 6 years ago in this very environment. As mentioned before, he’s already bounced back from losing seasons 3 times in New Orleans to bring his team back to the playoffs. The Saints almost certainly believe he’s still the man for the job to get this out of this current hole. If he makes any indication he doesn’t want to be that guy, though, then the Saints should pull the trigger on moving him. The payoff would set up their next coach with a terrific way to start his legacy in New Orleans.