League sources said the Saints -- adrift in another lost season and with veteran quarterback Drew Brees spiraling in recent weeks -- would consider moving the coach should there be suitors, and it would not likely require hefty trade compensation.
The Saints are dealing with several issues regarding ownership and the possible structure of football operations moving forward. Brees, who turns 38 on Jan. 15, has one year left on his contract, and doing another one-year extension may be tricky given his struggles after a strong start. He has thrown nine touchdowns to nine interceptions in New Orleans' last five games, four of them losses; only Philip Rivers has more interceptions in that span.
Moving Payton's contract would free up about $40 million at a time when owner Tom Benson's health and the future of ownership is in question, and that money, along with the $25 million in cash/cap savings that would occur whenever Brees departs, would go a long way to providing an influx of means to rebuild this team. Benson has also struggled with his NBA franchise, both in the standings and at the box office.
"I don't think it would take all that much to get him, actually," said one source with knowledge of the situation. "I don't think [GM] Mickey [Loomis] would hold him back or ask for all that much in return at this point."
Payton has had a long and successful stint in New Orleans, taking the formerly moribund franchise to a Super Bowl title, but the idea of a new challenge wouldn't be without attraction. The Saints may be undergoing a front office restructuring of sorts, and, mired in salary cap hell in recent years, adding young, cheap draft picks would appeal to them.
Landing Payton would qualify as an immediate impact move during a year in which there is not a preponderance of hot coaching candidates, and with other options somewhat limited. The Colts, for instance, could make a move for a coach again a year after deciding to extend Chuck Pagano. The Rams would be an appealing job. The Chargers have a lot of strong young individual talent, and Rivers is a few years younger than Brees.
Payton is a California native with family there and previously coached at San Diego State, so the Southern California jobs could have a particular appeal.