Former Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton has every intention of being a head coach of an NFL franchise for the 2023 season. The question now becomes for what team, and for how much?
Payton will command a salary that will make him a top-three highest-paid coach in the NFL, and not every team owner has the appetite for that. But for the ones who do, there's another cost associated with acquiring Payton: draft-pick compensation.
The Saints hold Payton's rights. Any team that wants to talk with Payton about their head-coaching vacancy will have to first put together an amenable package for New Orleans that the Saints would accept should Payton get the gig. And according to history and executives polled around the league, there's a huge range of what compensation would be acceptable.
A coaching trade hasn't taken place since the Jets sent a fourth-round pick to the Chiefs for Herm Edwards in 2006. Back then, trading for coaches was extremely common relative to today's NFL.
The Patriots traded Bill Parcells to the Jets in 1997 for what ultimately was a future first, future second and current third and fourth round picks. Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Holmgren went from Green Bay to Seattle for what was a second-round pick. Bill Belichick went from the Jets to the Patriots for what worked out to be a first-round pick and then some.
And in one of the more unique situations, the Raiders sent Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for what amounted to two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million in cash.
Nearly every executive polled for this story estimated it would cost at least a first-round pick to get Payton.
"I'd assume Mickey's shooting for a 1 but that's unrealistic in my opinion," said one executive. "But you can't argue with history."
Said another: "You'd ask for a 1 but settle for a 2 and 4 or some equal combination."
A third said: "I'd ask for what the Raiders got from Tampa."
A fourth said the price would be different depending on the conference. An AFC team would only need to send a second and third over two seasons, while an NFC team would have to send a first, third and fourth over the next two seasons.
And a fifth noted they'd ask for two first-round picks but could settle for a premium first-round pick if that selection is in or close to the top-five.
If you believe, as one executive does, that the compensation should fall between Belichick and Gruden, that means the Saints should ask for a first- and second-round pick.
There are currently three teams without a permanent head coach: Carolina, Indianapolis and Denver. Arizona, Houston and even New Orleans all have varying possibilities of opening up. Without a surprising retirement or firing, it's hard to imagine more than a half-dozen will be available this offseason.
The Broncos have the money to get Payton if he's interested, but they'd likely have to give up their late first-round pick they got from the Bradley Chubb trade. Payton would have to be convinced he could fix Russell Wilson, too, because his contract necessitates that Wilson will be there at least in 2023 and possibly in 2024 (without some extremely painful cap maneuvering.)
In Indianapolis and Carolina, keeping the interim coaches is a very real possibility, albeit for vastly different reasons. Colts owner Jim Irsay is strongly hinting at promoting Jeff Saturday to permanent head coach once the interviewing process is complete. In Charlotte, team owner David Tepper has seen Steve Wilks take a moribund team (without Christian McCaffrey) and become a division contender as players openly campaign for Wilks.
Tepper, at one point, had great interest in Payton, but that love was reportedly unrequited. A team source wondered what Tepper's appetite would be for Payton considering the huge contract, plus huge control, plus huge draft-pick compensation it would take to get him to the NFC South rival.
Everyone knows Payton would have interest in the Cowboys and Chargers jobs. The issue is that both are unlikely to open, at least right now. Mike McCarthy will have the Cowboys traveling to the NFC South champion on Super Wild Card weekend where they'll be a favored team. But a playoff collapse with a team this good could make Jerry Jones — at age 80 and more than a quarter-century separated from even a conference title game appearance — jittery for change.
Brandon Staley has the Chargers in the playoffs for the first time in his tenure and there's still two weeks left in the season. The franchise also isn't known to have deep pockets, and big-time contracts to Derwin James and J.C. Jackson last offseason plus the richest contract in franchise history that it will have to dole out to Justin Herbert in 2023 means Dean Spanos may not be too enthused with paying a fired coach and a very expensive one, too.
Arizona could open up, but its quarterback may not be ready for Week 1 of the 2023 season. Payton may not want to go to that organization anyway. Houston has its own organizational issues but at least it has a bevy of picks to send to New Orleans while keeping enough to secure its franchise quarterback of the future in April.
And then, there's always home. There's a chance — though a slim one — that Payton could simply return to New Orleans. He's under contract, and the Saints underachieved in Year One of Dennis Allen's four-year contract. This option seems very unlikely, but it must be noted.
If Payton winds up back on a sideline in 2023, it will cost his new team at least a first-round pick and very possibly more. In some cases, those would be picks the team isn't in a position to afford right now. That sort of draft capital is what could be used to get the quarterback Payton would need on the roster — unless of course he goes after free-agent-to-be Tom Brady.
Whatever happens, you have to pay the cost to be the boss.