What can the New Orleans Saints gain in a Sean Payton trade?


The talk of a potential Sean Payton trade has gone strong all season but it came to a head this week when NFL Network’s insider Ian Rapoport threw a new team into the rumor mill, which Payton himself has apparently considered:  the San Diego (or Los Angeles?) Chargers.

It’s a sensible option to keep in mind, seeing as Payton’s daughter recently started classes at the Pepperdine University in south California.

Other names in consideration for Payton’s services in a postseason trade include the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins.  This is purely guess on my part, but I can absolutely see the New York Giants enter the ring of suitors if they part ways with Tom Coughlin in the coming weeks.  Payton has a history with the organization and could be the kind of long-term, culture-changing coach they would need to succeed Coughlin.

Note that I’m debating why Payton will or will not leave New Orleans, or if the Saints would even let him go.  That conversation is going on all over the place and I just want to objectively see what kind of compensation the Saints could get in return for trading Payton to another franchise.

Losing a proven coach who has won in the playoffs is hard to swallow, but some signs are pointing to this being the end of the line for the Payton-Loomis braintrust in New Orleans.  So what would the New Orleans Saints gain by parting ways with Sean Payton?

There is a precedent in the NFL for coaching trades:  Don Shula, Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, and Herman Edwards have all been traded from one team to another in the league’s history.  Using the NFL Draft Pick Valuation Chart, which is often used by teams to normalize the value of draft choices for trades and their winning percentages at the time of trade, we can get an idea of how coaches are valued.

It’s easy to say that the New York Jets got robbed for trading Belichick for so few picks, but it’s important to remember that he was not a highly-regarded coach at the time of the trade.  Nobody knew that he was going to build the most-enduring dynasty of recent NFL history when he was traded.  Here are the coaches trades listed in chronological order:

Year Traded


Win % (at time of trade)

Draft Pick Value


Don Shula




Bill Parcells




Mike Holmgren




Bill Belichick




Jon Gruden



2006Herman Edwards.488


The first thing made clear by this chart is that coaches trades are uncommon in the NFL.  There was a 27-year lapse where none were made between Don Shula and Bill Parcells, but then four trades happened in five years from Parcells to Jon Gruden.  If we drop the outliers – Shula, whose trade happened prior to the “modern era” of the NFL, and Herman Edwards, who was traded for pennies to get him out of the building – then we can have a more effective measuring-stick.

Heading into the season-closer against the Atlanta Falcons, Sean Payton has won 86 of 143 regular season games; a winning percentage of .601.  That can change to .604 with a win in Atlanta or .597 with a loss, either of which puts him third on the list behind Holmgren and Parcells and slightly ahead of Gruden.  There’s a big discrepancy between the draft pick value those two coaches netted, but Payton’s win percentage fits snugly between Parcells and Gruden.  So that’s where I would estimate Payton’s value in a draft pick trade.

But which team would be willing to part with something that valuable?  The San Diego Chargers hold the third-overall pick for now (valued at 2,200), so it’s hard to see them giving that up even if it means securing Payton’s services.  The Miami Dolphins pick more reasonably at seventh-overall (worth 1,500), which is a bargaining chip they could be talked into forfeiting.  The New York Giants now own the tenth-overall selection (1,300) and the Indianapolis Colts have the fifteenth-overall pick (1,050) locked down, pending an unlikely playoff push.

Sean Payton is absolutely worth at least a first round draft pick.

Were I the Saints, I would have a few stipulations before trading Payton.  Firstly, that he can only be traded to the AFC; keeping him in the NFC would cause all sorts of annual tensions and lead to bad blood down the line, so that eliminates the Giants as a landing-spot.  Based off of this data, Payton is absolutely worth at least a first round draft pick.  Assuming the Chargers won’t relinquish their third-overall selection leaves us with the Dolphins and Colts.

With all of this in mind, the best bids I can estimate from the Dolphins is draft picks in the first round (valued at 1,500), third round (240), and fourth round (84).  At least one of those picks could be from the 2017 draft so the Dolphins can still have a decent-sized 2016 draft class.

On the other hand, the Colts could offer their own draft pick reimbursement.  Because they only have six draft picks in 2016, the Colts could try to swap two first round picks for Payton; one this year (worth 1,050) and their 2017 first round pick (assuming they make the playoffs next year, worth an average of 700 points).  This would not be as many picks as the Dolphins can offer, but the possibility of two Saints first round picks in two years could be tempting.

It’s too soon to say whether Payton will go or stay right now but it feels likely.  Coaches say all the time that they won’t leave their current team and are gone days later.  It’s just a nasty side of the business.  Things will get moving quickly once the season is over next Sunday in Atlanta with a win or a loss.  All we can do as fans is be ready for whatever comes next.

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