After 15 seasons as the Saints' head coach, Sean Payton is stepping away from the team for an indefinite break, as CBS Sports insider Jason La Canfora reported Tuesday. The 58-year-old coach, who led New Orleans to its first and only Super Bowl championship in 2009, isn't necessarily retiring from football, with plans to potentially return to the sidelines down the road. But unless the Saints are truly committed to hiring a new coach only to replace him or her with Payton sometime after 2022, it's likely Payton's time with New Orleans is over for good.
Before Payton informed the Saints of his decision, teams aware of his uncertain future and desire to "possibly leave New Orleans ... explored ways" to acquire or hire the longtime coach, according to ESPN's Dianna Russini. This comes just three years after the Buccaneers swapped draft picks with the Cardinals to finalize a deal with coach Bruce Arians, who had retired as Arizona's coach after the 2017 season. Which teams were -- and might still be -- trying to lure Payton to new pastures?
Here are the most logical suitors:
Payton has long been linked to America's Team, maintaining a close relationship with Cowboys brass after using his stint as Dallas' assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach (2003-2005) to launch his run with the Saints. More importantly, owner Jerry Jones has declined to endorse current coach Mike McCarthy, who's gone 18-15 in two years on the job and just recently oversaw a wild-card loss to the 49ers. The Cowboys are already built to compete, so this is far and away the most ideal destination.
Before his time in Dallas, Payton spent four years with the rival Giants, first as QBs coach (1999) and then as offensive coordinator (2000-2002) under Jim Fassel. New York isn't nearly as ready to contend as the Cowboys, coming off its ninth losing season in 10 years. But the Giants, still hunting for a new coach after tabbing ex-Bills executive Joe Schoen as their general manager, also boast a pair of top-10 draft picks, play in a winnable division and offer the spotlight of a big market.
They may not be title contenders, but the Raiders proved in 2021 they're playoff material. With interim coach Rich Bisaccia likely to be replaced despite a decent run as Jon Gruden's emergency fill-in, they could use another commanding presence atop the staff. Derek Carr would likely stay put with Payton in tow, and Vegas would offer him a sunnier, big-market opportunity closer to his West Coast birthplace.
Exploring candidates to replace Matt Nagy, the Bears did, in fact, inquire about trading for Payton, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, only for the longtime Saints coach to shut down talks, apparently wary of team management. So you can probably scratch this one off as a realistic possibility, but just know Chicago was reportedly -- and understandably -- interested.