A host of factors must fall into place for Sean Payton to become a free agent in the offseason, but that hasn't stopped the wildfire-like speculation tying the New Orleans Saints coach to the Dallas Cowboys.
You could build a compelling case why Payton would be interested in the Cowboys job. Payton has a strong relationship with Jerry Jones going back to his days as a coach in Dallas, and he once tried to trade for Tony Romo before the Saints landed Drew Brees. Beyond that, Payton's two children live in the Dallas area, and the coach is said to have concerns about the succession plan in place for Saints ownership.
Put it all together, and it's easy to craft a theory that makes sense.
"I could see it happening," one Cowboys source told NFL.com and NFL Network's Albert Breer this week. "You know the relationship. Jerry really respects (Sean). To be honest, I think he was hoping that Jason (Garrett) would be what Sean is -- the personality, the creativity. That's who he wanted with Jason, was another Sean."
Jones has invested years in Garrett dating back to his playing days with the Cowboys in the 1990s. The owner surely wants to see his investment through, but Payton could represent an opportunity Jones will find too tempting to pass up.
Breer spoke to another source who worked for Dallas during Payton's time there as an assistant coach under Bill Parcells.
"Mesh the personal and the professional, and I'd say that (Payton would) have more reasons to do it than not."
The biggest question remains if Payton would actually walk away from the Saints. He has a great relationship with team owner Tom Benson and quarterback Drew Brees, and he's become an icon in the city.
It's hard to imagine Payton ever making a lateral move out of town, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.