Last March during the NFL's annual meeting, Saints coach Sean Payton nonchalantly mentioned that not only had he agreed to a new five-year contract extension, but also that he was carrying it around in his briefcase. It was a comical end to a year-long saga centered around the question of where Payton would be coaching in 2016.
Payton said at the time, "I don't see myself working anywhere else."
It's time to revisit that view.
With the Los Angeles Rams job open, multiple sources say it is a position Payton is monitoring with sincere interest. For Payton to become the team's new head coach, it would take significant maneuvering behind the scenes to work. One source described the prospects as not imminent or likely but "possible." The Rams, of course, would have to decide he's their overwhelming No. 1.
Payton hasn't been shy about his openness toward landing on the West Coast (his daughter lives in California), and there was plenty of interest last year in possible openings with the 49ers or Chargers, as well as the Colts.
Payton ended up staying in New Orleans for a salary near $10 million per year. Now he could leave just one year into the deal -- and the Saints may allow him to do it.
The Saints haven't been to the playoffs since 2013, despite a franchise QB in Drew Brees. Given Payton's hefty salary, and considering the frustration with another year of "will he or won't he" speculation, members of the organization are said to be tiring of it all. Morale is lower than it has been in the past, and uncertainty over Payton's future is one reason why.
The Saints would demand compensation to allow Payton to leave, but it might not be much. If he really wants out, the Saints aren't likely to hold him hostage, pay him his huge salary and ask him to coach the team when he wants to be elsewhere.
The way a deal would work, theoretically, is the Rams and Saints would agree on compensation first (draft picks or players). Then, the new team and Payton would work out a contract. Finally, the Saints would receive its picks.
Payton has been with the Saints since 2006 and won a Super Bowl. But a decade is a long time with one team -- too long in the eyes of some. With the rebuild almost complete and one more year of Brees, it would seemingly be a good time for all to transition.
With the Rams, Payton would find plenty of talent on defense, a healthy salary-cap situation, a young quarterback to mold and a lot of limelight and flash.
So where are the Rams in their search? Exactly where you'd imagine. Considering all the big names but knowing they are not coaching for a reason. Names like Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, David Shaw all are in the extremely unlikely category.
No interviews are scheduled yet, but they'll likely have a better idea after this weekend of who is in the playoffs and who isn't to map out a schedule. But expect their list to include many of the hot coordinator options, such as Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Vance Joseph and others.
The Rams are not looking for a splash. They had one last time -- the most high-profile hire of the cycle -- and it was Jeff Fisher. They simply want the best for their football operation.
As for Payton, a lot would have to happen for him to land with the Rams. And last year, many of the same factors were at play and he ended up staying. It's not a given the outcome will be the same this time.
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