September 24, 2015 - Danny Shimon
Could Sean Payton's Time in New Orleans be Coming to an End ?
The Monday after the end of a NFL regular season is typically referred to as “Black Monday” in NFL media circles. As that has become the day teams usually fire their head coaches or in some cases their General Managers. Sadly this day has become one of the most anticipated dates on the NFL calendar similar to the start of free agency and the NFL Draft. Disgruntled fans of a team who have been yearning for a change at the head coaching position get to rejoice as the man or men who run their organization are given their walking papers. Last season seven teams fired their respective head coaches, while five did the same the previous season. So, a little over a quarter of the 32 NFL teams have fired and hired new head coaches within the past two seasons. With the expected dismissals there always seems to be a bombshell or two that catch many NFL fans by surprise. Last season the Broncos fired John Fox after they were eliminated from the playoffs, despite taking the Broncos to the Super Bowl the previous season. Fox complied a 46-18 record in four seasons in Denver. In 2013, the Browns fired their Head Coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season. Although it is still early in the 2015 season, lists at present are being compiled of head coaches that may already be on the “Hot Seat”. One name you will not see on any early season list is Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints. What Payton has accomplished while he has been in New Orleans has been well documented. The thought of him actually being fired by the Saints would be unimaginable by most. So could there be a possibility that Sean Payton would no longer be the head coach in New Orleans starting in 2016? I would like to preface by saying I am not advocating the firing of Sean Payton by the Saints, what I am stating is I can see a scenario where a split between Payton and the Saints might be coming this offseason. Payton was hired by the Saints back in 2006 and since then he has a record of 80 – 50 for a .615 win-loss percentage. The Saints have won three division titles and a Super Bowl under his watch, while sustaining one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. Between 2006 through 2011 the Saints averaged ten wins a season, and appeared to be a well-oiled engine. However in 2012, the Saints started to run into issues both on and off the field. That, of course, was the season Payton was suspended for the entire year for his attempts to cover up a system of extra cash payouts to the players better known as Bounty Gate. Since Bounty Gate it seems that the Saints have not been the same. Since 2012 the Saints have gone 25 – 25 (including this season’s record). After starting last season winless in their first four games, Payton and the Saints made it a priority to get off to a much better start this season, but with Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Saints find themselves at 0-2 and as the only winless team in the NFC South Division. To make matters worse, star quarterback Drew Brees suffered a bruised rotator cuff injury that puts his availability in question for the next couple of weeks. Coupled with a defense that is giving up an average of 28 points a game the situation appears bleak at the moment in New Orleans. If the Saints finish with a losing record and miss the playoffs for the second year in a row this could precipitate the start of a complete rebuild in New Orleans. The assumption is a rebuild by the franchise would include the release and trading of veteran players for both draft picks and salary cap savings. Presumably one of those veterans would be quarterback Drew Brees and his hefty contract. If this scenario does play out and a complete tear down and rebuild is what the Saints elect to do I don’t see Payton wanting to stick around and go through such a painful process. Making a split between the successful head coach and franchise a possibility. If there is a divorce between the Saints and Sean Payton this coming offseason, he would not be out of a job for long; as he would top the list of every NFL franchise looking to hire a new head coach. Payton would have the opportunity to pick and choose the franchise and situation that best suits him. There are a couple of NFL teams where I can envision openings lining up for Payton where he might be interested in pursuing. The first opening could be in Indianapolis with the Colts. The Colts have also started 0-2 and head coach Chuck Pagano was already under the spotlight prior to the season even starting. Owner Jim Irsay and General Manager Ryan Grigson did not extend the contract of Pagano before the season, instead opting to let him enter the final year of his contract as a lame duck coach. With losses to both Buffalo and the Jets to start the season, both of whom were non-playoff qualifiers last season and both with new coaching staffs, the Colts have looked listless and uninterested in both games. To add more fuel to the fire a recent NFL Network report claimed that if Irsay does decide to jettison Pagano he would be ready to go “Big game hunting” and possibly change the structure of the organization. If this is true what other coach out there could Irsay get, that is not named Belichick, be bigger than Sean Payton? Indy might just be the perfect spot for Payton if he were to leave New Orleans. With the Colts he would have his franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck (Payton will not go to a team who does not have a bonafide quarterback) and offensive weapons like T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Andre Johnson. He would play his home games inside a dome on artificial surface where traditionally his offense has had the most success. There would be an owner awaiting him with open arms and a bushel of cash. Plus the lure of heading back to the Midwest where he was raised might be tempting. Even though he was born in California, Payton was raised in Illinois where he went to Naperville High School then eventually ending up playing his college ball at Eastern Illinois University. The Colts would appear to be a ready-made contender, with loads of talent just needing the right coach to guide them to a championship. The other franchise I can see Payton having an interest in would be the N.Y. Giants. Just like the Saints and Colts, New York has also started off 0-2, with both losses being of the gut wrenching variety. In both games the Giants had double digit leads that they ended up squandering in the final quarters. Tom Coughlin has once again come under scrutiny about play calling by his coaches and costly mental errors from his players. The tabloids have already started writing about Coughlin’s job and possible replacements. Payton, I feel, would jump at the opportunity to take the Giants job if it were to become available. First off he has history there, as he was the Giants quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator under Jim Fassel from 1999 – 2002. So he is well aware of the scrutiny that comes along with being the Giants head coach, and also the benefits and opportunities off the field when you win. He would have his quarterback in Eli Manning and once again offensive weapons to work with like Odell Beckham Jr., and Victor Cruz. Although the Giants roster is not as talented as the Colts, the lure of New York and all that comes with it might be too enticing for Payton to pass up. As widely respected as he is, Payton has never gotten his due as one of the better head coaches in the NFL. A lot can be attributed to the lack of publicity he draws working in New Orleans. In New York, Payton would have all the publicity he could handle and then some. If Payton were to win and win big in New York with the Giants, he would join the “Mount Rushmore” of current NFL coaches like Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, and Mike McCarthy. Now if the Saints rattle of five wins in a row all this would become a moot point. However if they continue on their current downward trend big changes could be coming to the Big Easy. None bigger than losing one of the better head coaches in the NFL. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56