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Sean Payton: Latest coaching rumors, contract projection and everything to know

Sean Payton is one of the best NFL coaching candidates in 2023 with teams across the league pitching him on becoming their next head coach. Just one year after he stepped away from football, the former New Orleans Saints coach could return to the sidelines in 2023.

Payton resigned as the Saints’ head coach in 2022, taking a break from football after five consecutive winning seasons. Across 15 years in New Orleans, Payton delivered 10 winning seasons and led the franchise to its only Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLIV.

Regarded as one of the best offensive strategists and NFL head coaches of his era, Payton took time away from the NFL this past season to reset mentally and work with FOX Sports. The 59-year-old is now fielding offers from multiple NFL teams, leading to one of the biggest NFL coaching pursuits in years.

Related: NFL coaching predictions

Here’s everything you need to know about Payton, why NFL teams are interested in him and where things stand with him this offseason.

Sean Payton interview tracker

Sean Payton has interviewed with four NFL teams in 2023, with the Indianapolis Colts the only club with a head-coaching vacancy that didn’t request permission from an interview. Because he remains under contract with New Orleans, each NFL team that wants to meet with Payton is required to receive permission from the Saints. Here’s the latest on where things stand.

Denver Broncos

After firing Nathaniel Hackett after one season, the Denver Broncos coaching search is believed to be one of the most aggressive this season. The franchise is owned by Wal-Mart heir Rob Walton, the richest owner in NFL history, with Greg Penner serving as CEO.

Related: Denver Broncos will be aggressive in coaching search

Denver is reportedly willing to meet the Saints’ asking price to acquire Payton and ownership is comfortable making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL. The Broncos are interviewing Payton for a second time, with Penner and general manager George Paton preparing for a formal meeting with him. As of now, the Broncos are the favorites to hire Payton but Dan Quinn is also firmly in the mix as a finalist.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers’ owner David Tepper is leading the franchise’s coaching search after firing Matt Rhule early during the 2022 season. Despite being a division rival of the Saints, Carolina received permission to interview Payton.

The Panthers were originally scheduled to interview Payton before the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. However, the death of Charlotte FC soccer player Anton Walkes led to Tepper postponing the interview so he could support Charlotte’s grieving players. The Panthers tentatively rescheduled the interview for Jan. 23 (ESPN).

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals received permission to interview Payton shortly after it fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury. However, the Cardinals likely hurt their already slim chances of landing the high-profile coach by hiring Monti Ossenfort as general manager. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Payton wants to build a program his way, either having involvement in roster construction or helping pick the general manager. Based on the direction the Cardinals chose, they are likely out of the mix.

Related: NFL stadium rankings

Houston Texans

While the Houston Texans’ job is viewed as the worst of the NFL head-coaching vacancies, they remain in the mix for Payton. He already interviewed with the franchise once, with one NFL insider indicating Houston has a strong chance of landing Payton. While general manager Nick Caserio is helping oversee the coaching search, the franchise reportedly isn’t committed to him long-term and ownership could offer Payton the authority he wants along with significant capital to build a team in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Related: Houston Texans GM willing to resign for new coach

What do the New Orleans Saints want for Sean Payton?

NFL: New Orleans Saints-Press Conference
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Payton is under contract with the New Orleans Saints through the 2024 season. As a result, any team that wants to hire him is required to provide the Saints with compensation. It’s a unique situation in NFL history as head coach trades are rare, but there is precedent.

NFL head coach trades

  • 1970 – Miami Dolphins trade 1970 first-round pick to Baltimore Colts for Don Shula
  • 1977 – New York Jets trade 1997 third- and fourth-round picks, ’98 second-round pick, ’99 first-round pick, $300,000 for charity to New England Patriots for Bill Parcells
  • 1999 – Seattle Seahawks trade a second-round pick to Green Bay Packers for Mike Holmgren
  • 2000 – New England Patriots trade 2000 first-round pick, ’01 fourth- and seventh-round picks to the New York Jets for Bill Belichick
  • 2005 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade 2002, ’03 first-round picks, 2002, ’04 second-round and $8 million cash considerations to the Raiders for Jon Gruden
  • 2006 – Kansas City Chiefs trade 2006 fourth-round pick to the Jets for Herm Edwards
  • 2019 – Buccaneers trade 2019 sixth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for Bruce Arians and a 2019 seventh-round pick

New Orleans is asking for a lot more than any team has paid for a head coach in recent years. At a minimum, any team that hires Payton must be willing to trade at least one first-round pick to the Saints with additional compensation required. New Orleans is pushing for two first-round picks, but it will likely settle for a first-round selection and a future Day 2 pick.

If an NFL team wants to hire Payton without compensating the Saints, they will have to wait until his contract expires in 2024.

Sean Payton coaching career

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Before landing his first NFL head-coaching gig, Payton started his coaching career as an offensive assistant at San Diego State University (1988-’89) as an offensive assistant. He returned to the program as running backs coach (1992-’93), spending nearly a decade at the college level.

  • Sean Payton coaching record: 152-89 in regular season, 9-8 in playoffs

Payton first went to the NFL in 1997, working under head coach Ray Rhodes as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach. Following a two-year stint in Philadelphia, he landed with the New York Giants. He spent one season as the Giants’ quarterbacks coach before taking over as offensive coordinator (2000-’02) under Jim Fassel. However, Fassel took over play-calling midway through the 2002 season.

He left New York to join Bill Parcels’ coaching staff with the Dallas Cowboys, operating as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach (2003-’05). After strong seasons from three different quarterbacks, New Orleans hired Payton on Jan. 17, 2006.

Taking over a team that went 3-13 the season before, with New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, Payton and Drew Brees oversaw one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. The Saints went 10-6 in their first season with the new coach-quarterback duo and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three years later.

While Payton’s teams struggled in the playoffs outside of that Super Bowl run (6-8 record), a missed pass interference call cost them at least one additional Super Bowl appearance. Even in his final year with the Saints, Payton was widely regarded as one of the best play designers and offensive innovators in the NFL.

Sean Payton contract projection

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

While salaries for NFL players are public information, it’s very different for head coaches. Without reporting from NFL insiders and beat writers, teams don’t disclose how much they are paying their head coaches.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly makes $20 million per season, with Sean McVay and Pete Carroll among the highest earners as well. Payton is reportedly seeking at least $20 million per season in a contract extension and could reportedly push for $25 million.

  • Projection: $100 million over five years

Predicting Sean Payton’s coaching staff

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Rookie Minicamp
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even before accepting a job, Sean Payton has already reached out to colleagues around football about positions on his potential coaching staff. While defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is the only name publicly known as a target, Payton’s track record points to other potential candidates.

Related: Sean Payton putting together ‘All-Star staff’ for NFL return

Former Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi would be a strong candidate to join Payton’s coaching staff. He joined the Saints in 2007 as an offensive assistant, serving in that position for two seasons before taking over as quarterbacks coach. Following a two-year stint as the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator, he returned to Payton (2016-’20) as quarterbacks coach.

Zach Strief is another player to keep an eye on. A former first-team All-Pro selection in New Orleans, he spent his entire playing career (2006-’17) with Payton. Following his retirement, he joined the Saints’ coaching staff in 2021 as an assistant offensive line coach. Given his ties to Payton, he would likely merit heavy consideration.

Assistants like Kris Richard (Saints’ secondary coach), Joe Brady (Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach), D.J. Williams (Saints’ offensive assistant since 2017), Mike Nolan (Saints’ linebackers coach 2017-19) are also names to keep in mind. Payton might also want Jeff Ireland, who is currently the assistant general manager in New Orleans, to join him.