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Will Sean Payton be an NFL head coach in 2023?

We discuss whether an NFL team will hire former Saints head coach Sean Payton and which opening fits him best.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton looks on against Dallas Cowboys during the first half at Caesars Superdome.  Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is one of the first names you hear people say when discussing a head coaching job in the NFL this year. After stepping down following the 2021-22 season, many thought he could return at some point. He has hinted that he’s interested in coming back, but for a different team. The Saint will reportedly seek a first round pick for him in a trade. It will be interesting to see how it works out this offseason.

Who is Sean Payton?

Payton was a quarterback at Eastern Illinois University and had a good career there. He went undrafted and bounced around the Arena Football League and Canadien Football League in years after that. He coached a number of different colleges as an offensive assistant, quarterbacks coach, running backs coach, wide receivers coach, and an offensive coordinator.

In 1997, he landed his first NFL coaching job as the quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. After two years there, he moved to the same job with the New York Giants. He was promoted to their offensive coordinator the following season. The Giants coaching staff was fired after three years there. He was then hired by the Dallas Cowboys as the assistant head coach & quarterbacks coach. After three years there, Payton was hired as the head coach of the Saints. He served as head coach of the Saints from 2006 until 2021. He was suspended for the 2012 season due to the Bountygate.

Why would he make a good head coach?

There are a number of different teams that would immediately improve with Payton as head coach. Payton was one of the best offensive minds in the NFL during his time as a head coach and he could immediately turn some offenses around. He led the Saints to the playoffs nine times in the 15 seasons he served as head coach. He has the experience and his players seemed to enjoy playing for him.

The cost to add Payton as your head coach will be a ton, but it should be worth it. Along with the picks you trade for him, he will need to sign a new contract. Payton needs to be added to the right situation. A team with a great quarterback would be somewhere that will work for him. He needs an on the field leader that is on the same page as him. A few teams that stick out are the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals depending on whether or not they hold onto Kliff Kingsbury.

Which teams are interviewing him?

Denver Broncos

Update 1/31- NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the deal is agreed to, and it will be Denver’s first-round pick this year and an early pick next year for Payton.

Update 1/31- Payton seems to be the top candidate for Denver. The Saints and the Broncos have begun discussing the compensation that would be needed for Payton to be traded to Denver, per Adam Schefter.

Update 1/12- Payton’s interview with the Broncos will take place next Tuesday in Los Angeles. Payton would be immediately available for the team if hired but it would require some form of deal with the Saints involving draft picks.

Payton’s experience makes him an instant upgrade over Nathaniel Hackett and would have the immediate respect of the veterans of the locker room. The offensive guru be specifically tasked with mitigating the decline of veteran quarterback Russell Wilson and would be able to potentially pull it off considering how he squeezed production out of a declining Drew Brees in New Orleans. He would need to tap a defensive coordinator that could improve Denver’s efficiency and combat the throngs of offensive playmakers they face every year in the AFC West.

Update 1/8- The Broncos formally requested an interview with Payton from the Saints. They were given permission, but won’t be able to interview Payton until January 17, which is after the first round of the playoffs. Connecting Payton with Russell Wilson and a talented but severely underperforming Broncos squad is a ton of upside.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals received permission to interview Payton. Given Payton’s offensive pedigree, he could be a better option to help grow Kyler Murray. He’s got extensive experience and if he brings Vic Fangio along, that would be huge for a defense that ranked 24th in efficiency.

Houston Texans

The Texans have requested permission to interview Sean Payton. The Texans likely are high on Payton’s list of teams he’d want to coach, but the No. 2 pick could be enticing if he wants to build around a QB in this year’s draft. The Texans also might not give up the money that some other teams like the Broncos would be willing to offer. The Texans would be lucky to hire him.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers requested and received permission to interview Sean Payton for their head coaching vacancy, per Adam Schefter. With the Saints and Panthers in the same division, this move would probably be tougher to make compared to an AFC team, but not impossible, as the Saints let teams know what they’re looking for in exchange for Payton before giving permission to talk to him.