The NFL head coaching carousel is spinning full tilt this week, but the most intriguing situation has developed in New Orleans where the Saints have a coach but it may not be the same one they’ve had since 2006.
Coach Sean Payton has not been in contact with the club for some time while he mulls whether to return to the team or take a lucrative television deal to leave the profession at least temporarily, sources told OutKick in recent days.
It gets better.
Payton’s apparently been quite the prize this offseason. Another source told OutKick one team searching for a head coach during the current hiring cycle heard Payton was mulling his future and made a “back channel” advance to “Payton’s camp” to see if he’d consider leaving the Saints for that team’s job.
This is not the first time Payton has been the focus of another team while he’s tied to the Saints. The Dallas Cowboys years ago did work to get Payton to Dallas, but that ultimately didn’t happen.
Payton is contractually tied to the Saints through the 2024 season and had he decided to pursue going to another team, the move would have required a trade that the Saints would have to approve.
The source admitted a trade sending Payton to another club is the hardest of all possibilities to fathom.
“We don’t know,” Benson told reporters at an availability surrounding Mardi Gras festivities. “You know, who knows? We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. I don’t think any of us know, but he’ll let us know soon enough.”
The Saints seem somewhat shielded from whatever decision Payton makes because defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is considered by the organization to be a likely successor in the event their current coach leaves.
The Saints would still conduct a search but would have to be blown away by a new candidate to hire him over Allen, who is well regarded and respected internally.
The Saints also have a veteran and tested coaching staff that includes run game coordinator Dan Roushar, secondary coach Kris Richard, and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi — all of whom kept the team competitive, even as it was displaced from Louisiana by a hurricane early in the season.
Those coaches would likely remain under an Allen coaching staff.
In one of the NFL’s annual ironies, assistants on teams that lose often get jobs ahead of assistants on teams that advance further in the playoffs because, well, they’re available.
And so it was Monday that Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich — fresh off a loss to San Francisco — was scheduled for his second interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday.
Broncos head coach candidate Nathaniel Hackett, fresh off his Green Bay offense’s one-touchdown performance in a loss to San Francisco, arrived in Denver for his second interview and is considered a front-runner for that job along with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
The Broncos are expected to conduct a second interview with Quinn, whose team lost in the Wild Card round, as a finalist. That interview, although not officially set, is expected this week as the Broncos seem close to wrapping up their search.
Quinn, by the way, is hopeful of landing a job this hiring cycle because he’s been a very popular candidate. He’s talked to the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings as well as the Broncos, Giants and Chicago Bears once.
The Bears expect a second-round interview with Quinn, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell.
Interestingly, the Bears also put in a late request with Allen and should talk to him for the first time this week.
The Vikings have not made a ton of news on the head coach hire front because, although they’ve conducted interviews, they are focused on finding a general manager who could join the search and sign off on the coach decision.
Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, another coordinator whose unit performed poorly last weekend, is considered a strong candidate in Minnesota.
Perhaps the most intriguing coaching search so far has been run by the Houston Texans because they conducted interviews with Florida Atlantic University assistant and former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward and former NFL quarterback Josh McCown — neither of whom is seemingly ready to become an NFL head coach.
The Texans, in case anyone is wondering, believe themselves capable of outside the box thinking. Their record was 4-13 in 2021 and 4-12 in 2020.
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