This has been my belief about coach Sean Payton for many years: He is probably one of the top five offensive minds in the history of the league. Maybe higher.
Yes, he got to work with Drew Brees, but it’s also true that Drew Brees got to work with him. Payton is a master of play calling, scheming, play design … he’s right up there with Bill Walsh, Andy Reid, any damn body. Yes, he’s that good.
Before stepping away from the Saints on Tuesday, he built a kingdom in a city that, with a few exceptions, over the years had been a brutal place to win. Since 2006, when he joined the team, the Saints made the playoffs nine times, won seven NFC South titles and a Super Bowl.
He is also one of the most competitive coaches in the league, and if you combine all of that with, well, common sense, you’d be a fool to believe Payton is retiring.
“We’re not writing an obituary today,” Payton said at his press conference.
He made it clear that a return to coaching in the future is definitely a possibility. To me, it’s not a possibility. It’s a certainty. Not this coming season, no, but the season after that, well, absolutely.
Payton is going to rest but he’s also strategic. It’s more like he’s waiting. For the right coaching opportunity. The right time. The right place. If you were to pick a team that would be a perfect match with Payton, there’s really only one: the Dallas Cowboys.
The one certain part of all this is when Payton comes back, and he will, he will be one of the biggest “free agents” of any player or coach since Peyton Manning. Now there’s a huge caveat to all of this. If Payton has some sort of health issues, all of this is moot. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. My guess is he feels like his time in New Orleans has run its course.
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Payton at his press conference said the right things. He hasn’t thought too far into the future and he certainly hasn’t thought about any future team. That may be true. The Cowboys will say they are happy with coach Mike McCarthy and haven’t thought about Payton or any other coach. That may not be true.
And, of course, Payton has been linked to Dallas before, as he was a Cowboys assistant under Bill Parcells from 2003 to ’05.
But if I were to bet my Star Trek comic collection (my most valuable possession), I’d bet my No. 1 Spock collector’s edition on Payton returning to coaching elsewhere, and I’d also bet he ends up in Dallas.
There could be some draft compensation involved since he is under contract with the Saints through 2024, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will pay it. I mean, Jones has McCarthy, who believes clock management is what Flavor Flav does when he hangs up his timepiece for the day. If you’re Jones, and you have even a remote shot at someone of Payton’s caliber, you go for it.
Again, everyone will play the game now, but spin this forward, and it looks like something that could definitely happen.
The main thing is, I can’t see Payton going to a beach and leaving the game forever. He’s just 58 years old, and there were times this season he took an injured, COVID-plagued team and coaching staff and won games using nothing but his brilliance. He held the team together with bubble gum, tape and PCR tests.
Payton is still hungry and talented, and there’s so much he has left to give. I don’t believe he thinks it’s his time to go. Just time to take a pause.
A brief pause. A year, tops. If that.
Then on to Dallas?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sean Payton leaves Saints, but could return as Dallas Cowboys coach