Chargers Clinching Playoffs Likely Means Sean Payton Won’t Replace Brandon Staley And That’s Good News For Los Angeles

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The Los Angeles Chargers clinched a playoff berth on Monday while winning their ninth game of the year. That guarantees a winning record in both seasons with head coach Brandon Staley. Yet, some Chargers fans want Sean Payton to replace him. That’s asinine.

It is still possible the team could dump Staley for Payton if the latter makes it clear he wants the job. The Chargers, in San Diego at the time, fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season in 2007.

But that situation was quite different than this one, as owner Dean Spanos — who was then President of Operations and CEO — had a rocky relationship with Schottenheimer.

In this case, Spanos seems to have no issue with Brandon Staley, but the thought is that if Sean Payton wants to coach your team, you let him coach your team.

And, according to a quick Twitter search, plenty of people feel that way.

Chargers firing Brandon Staley to hire Sean Payton would be a mistake

There are many reasons why it would be a mistake, but let’s start with the biggest one: Sean Payton is overrated.

He is a very good football coach, I’m not arguing that he isn’t. But the amount of love he is getting in this coaching cycle is ridiculous. You’d think the guy invented the game and had all the secrets.

Sean Payton won a Super Bowl in 2009. Yes, there are a finite number of those. But if that’s the biggest selling point, why did no one suggest firing their current coach to hire Doug Pederson after he was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles? Pederson at least won a Super Bowl in the past decade, unlike Payton.

Pederson’s Super Bowl victory is more impressive than Payton’s, too. He did it with a combination of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, two guys who can’t even start in the NFL at this point. Payton did it with a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Speaking of that, people seem to think New Orleans was a perennial contender with Payton and Brees. That’s not exactly true. In his 15 seasons with the team, New Orleans missed the playoffs six times. Twice they lost their first playoff game, so in more than half his seasons the team did not win a single playoff game.

They reached the NFC Championship three times and the Super Bowl once, with one victory. Again, that’s a very good resume. But it is not “fire your winning head coach, and give Payton whatever he wants” good.

And don’t forget that he was suspended for the entire 2012 season for the Bounty Gate scandal.

Belief that Sean Payton is a “quarterback whisperer”

There’s an idea that Sean Payton is a quarterback whisperer and that’s what Justin Herbert needs to truly be a great NFL quarterback.

Payton brought Drew Brees to New Orleans in his first season with the team. Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback. “But Sean Payton made him a Hall of Fame quarterback!”

I’m not sure I understand this argument. On our OutKick editorial call — where we discuss stories daily — one of our reporters, Glenn Guilbeau, suggested that Brees wasn’t nearly as good until Payton was his coach.

I don’t think that’s true. Brees struggled in his first couple seasons, as young quarterbacks often do, but came alive in his third season as the Chargers starter. The team went 12-4 (11-4 with Brees starting) and Brees connected on 65% of his passes with a 27-7 TD-INT ratio, winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Brees always had massive talent. He was the 32nd overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft and the second-highest selected quarterback in that draft.

Brees was 20-11 in his last 31 starts in San Diego, but they were always going to turn it over to Phillip Rivers, who they “drafted” in 2004. After Brees suffered a nasty shoulder injury at the end of 2005, there were questions about his longevity.

Thanks to Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, Sean Payton and the Saints had Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees fall into their lap
Thanks to Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, Sean Payton and the Saints had Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees fall into their lap (photo via Getty Images)

In fact, Brees’ most likely landing spot was in Miami to play for head coach … Nick Saban. But the Dolphins medical staff did not sign off on his physical. If Brees had gone to Miami, it could have changed the course of football history, specifically college football. But that’s a topic for another day.

The point I’m trying to make here is that through a confluence of factors — San Diego drafting Rivers, Brees shoulder injury, Miami’s incompetence — Sean Payton wound up with an extremely talented quarterback who was entering his age-27 season on a team-friendly contract.

Then, after that quarterback retired and the roster — constructed by Payton — fell apart, he quit his job and left. Now he wants a new job, but only one that already has all the pieces in place.

Brandon Staley is a good football coach

The idea that the Chargers have underachieved under Brandon Staley is quite ridiculous. Justin Herbert won Rookie of the Year in 2020. The team went 7-9.

Staley was brought in and coached them to a winning record in his first season. They missed the playoffs on the final play of the 2021 season. This season, they again will have a winning record. They clinched the playoffs in Week 16, despite playing in the same division as the Kansas City Chiefs.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley and quarterback Justin Herbert
Brandon Staley and Justin Herbert have not underachieved with the Chargers, despite what people on Twitter think. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

That’s another thing Payton never really had to deal with — a legitimate challenger in the NFC South. The Saints won double-digit games in nine different seasons with Drew Brees as their quarterback. The rest of the NFC South had 12 such seasons combined.

The Chargers have dealt with a slew of injuries this season. Herbert suffered a rib injury that greatly affected him in the middle of the season. Prized free-agent signing cornerback JC Jackson is out for the season. Star pass rusher Joey Bosa hasn’t played since September. Neither has All-Pro left tackle Rashawn Slater.

Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams — the two highest-paid players on the team this season in terms of cap hits — have been in and out of the lineup. Center Corey Linsley, the third-highest paid player, has also missed three games. All-Pro safety Derwin James missed a pair of contests, as well.

Despite all of that, Staley has the team in the playoffs. Firing him to bring in Sean Payton — who, by the way, is still under contract with the Saints and would require compensation to acquire — would be a terrible decision.

Give Staley a chance. He’s done a good job so far. Remember that Payton missed the playoffs in two of his first three seasons with Drew Brees.

At least see if Staley can beat that before cutting him loose.


Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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