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NFL insider casts doubt on Sean Payton returning in 2023

Sean Payton

Sean Payton is one of the best NFL coaching candidates in 2023 with a number of teams lining up to pursue the former New Orleans Saints head coach. While many are hoping the future Hall of Famer returns to the sidelines, it’s not a foregone conclusion.

Payton stepped down as the Saints’ coach shortly after the 2021 season, opting to take a step back after a grueling coaching career. After moving into television with FOX Sports, Payton made it clear he wanted to eventually return to the NFL.

Related: Denver Broncos granted permission to interview Sean Payton

However, one of the best play-callers and football minds of his generation is only open to coming back in the right situation. He left New Orleans at a time when the offense was in disarray and the team lacked stability at quarterback.

Looking around at the NFL coaches fired thus far, there are several intriguing head-coaching vacancies available. As Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer explained, though, the circumstances surrounding each job might compel Payton to wait another year.

“Geography is in play for Payton, as are quarterbacks and money. And I’m just not sure any job will open that checks all those boxes. I don’t think Indianapolis would appeal to him like it once did when Andrew Luck was there. The Broncos, with their Walmart money, could throw a bag of it at Payton. But is he willing to hitch his second, and probably final, shot as an NFL head coach to Russell Wilson? Or, for that matter, Kyler Murray in Arizona depending on what happens with Kingsbury?”

MMQB’s Albert Breer on why Sean Payton might hold off on NFL return

Why Sean Payton might sit out another season

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Payton wants to become one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL and he is deserving. Based on his resume and the leverage he holds over interested teams, he should easily land a multi-year contract worth at least $20 million per season.

Related: 2023 NFL mock draft

The Denver Broncos are willing to spend whatever it takes to land a great head coach. However, the long-term concerns with quarterback Russell Wilson make it an extremely risky destination for Payton. He wants to design an offense around an ascending quarterback and Wilson’s last two seasons are evidence of a real decline.

As for the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers, neither are realistic options. Both teams are far away from the West Coast, where Payton strongly prefers to coach. Furthermore, New Orleans likely wouldn’t grant Carolina permission to hire Payton and the Colts’ quarterback situation paired with owner Jim Irsay’s hands-on involvement with the team make Indianapolis extremely unlikely.

Related: Sean Payton assembling staff for eventual NFL return

While the Arizona Cardinals seem like an intriguing possibility, even that now seems doubtful. Owner Michael Bidwill seems to be targeting internal candidates to potentially take over as general manager and head coach. Money is an issue for the franchise, which makes pursuing Payton improbable.

While there have been rumors about Payton returning to New Orleans, he left the team for a reason and the roster hasn’t improved a year later. Even if the circumstances changed early this offseason, Payton might not want to push his friend Dennis Allen out of what could be his last head-coaching gig.

Realistically, the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers seem like the only legitimate destinations that Payton might view as worthy of a return. But the Chargers aren’t expected to fire Brandon Staley after he clinched a playoff spot and Jerry Jones will only consider cutting ties with Mike McCarthy if Dallas suffers a first-round playoff exit.

All of this could be enough to convince Payton that he is better off waiting another year. If he takes the patient approach, there will likely be better opportunities available in 2024 with his choice of location and young franchise-caliber quarterbacks.