The major domino to fall in this year's coaching cycle lies in the fate of former Saints coach Sean Payton. Every team with a head coaching vacancy has expressed interest and interviewed Payton other than the Indianapolis Colts.
Payton has interviewed with the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and most recently, with the Arizona Cardinals. The team most closely linked to Payton has been the Denver Broncos.
Sean Payton has made it clear that the main factor he is looking at in assessing potential franchises is the organizational structure and the relationship with ownership and upper management. Payton often credits his relationship with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and owners Tom and Gayle Benson for much of New Orleans as well as his own personal success.
Denver Broncos owner Robert Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is in a prime position to give Payton a record coaching contract as well as the independence and support Payton feels is necessary to have success in the Mile High City.
New Orleans, who have Payton under contract for three seasons, would require draft compensation to release him from his contractual obligations in order to sign with the Broncos. The history of coaching trades in the NFL shows a diverse range of draft pick compensation, largely depending on the quality of the coaching candidate.
The most famous coaching trade came in 2002 when the Tampa Bay Bucs gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash to the then-Oakland Raiders for the rights to Jon Gruden. The Bucs, in their first year with Gruden as head coach, won the Super Bowl over none other than the Raiders in a 48-21 dominating victory.
Two major coaching trades prior to Gruden both involved the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. Bill Parcells was traded in 1997 from the Patriots to the Jets and, three years later, Bill Belichick was traded to the Patriots from New York. Both coaching trades involved, at a minimum, a first-round pick as well as multiple other later picks.
Other coaches traded included Mike Holmgren (1999) for a second-round pick, Herm Edwards (2006) for a fourth-round pick, and, most recently, Bruce Arians (2019) for a late-round pick swap.
What would a Sean Payton trade to the Denver Broncos look like?
Much of this discussion will focus on both the NFL coaching trade history as well as the assessment of Sean Payton himself. Payton, whose track record includes three NFC championship games, one Super Bowl victory, and one stolen NFL championship (the famous 2018 No-call), is clearly the most accomplished coaching candidate this offseason.
Payton himself is quoted as saying it would likely take a mid to late first-round pick in any trade with the Saints to acquire the rights to sign him to a contract. The Broncos are without their own first or second-round pick in this year's draft due to the Russell Wilson trade but currently have the 49ers' first-round pick by virtue of trading Bradley Chubb to San Francisco. Given the success of the 49ers in this year's playoffs, that pick will likely fall in the 29-32 range.
The Saints would undoubtedly want this pick as well as others to finalize any Payton deal. New Orleans is without a 2023 first-round pick as well as a 2024 second-round pick due to last year's trade with Philadelphia. The Saints could look to replenish both those draft picks in a Sean Payton deal as well as ask Denver for one of their two 2023 third-round selections.
However, the one major factor that makes such a trade unlikely is the same variable that Payton himself attributes his success to, namely, his relationship with current Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Saints ownership. Loomis and Payton are close friends, and despite Loomis's recent claims that he views Payton as an "asset to be maximized", the reality is that it is highly unlikely Loomis would block Payton's path to his desired location over draft pick compensation.
Saints fans arguing that Loomis has an obligation to the New Orleans franchise more than to his personal friend likely don't comprehend that such an "unspoken plan" regarding Payton is likely supported by Saints upper management and owner Gayle Benson. In other words, Loomis and the Saints could allow Payton to choose his destination and then negotiate the best deal for the Saints.
If, for instance, that choice is Denver, the Saints general manager could propose the above trade package but, if that offer is rebuffed, Loomis would then be forced to make the best deal possible without compromising his friend's choice to continue his career. Therefore, Denver's counter-proposal would likely include the 2023 first-round pick plus one of this year's third-round selections, allowing the Broncos' current 2024 draft pool to remain untouched. Loomis could push to include an additional pick, but, without true leverage, would ultimately agree to such a deal.
Thus, the proposed trade compensation for Sean Payton would be the Broncos' 2023 first-round pick (via SF), the 2023 third-round pick, and the 2024 second-round pick. Saints fans would rejoice at such a package and Saints mock drafts would reign supreme during the Mardi Gras holiday season.
Final trade details: Sean Payton to Denver for the Broncos 2023 first-round pick (via SF) and their own 2023 third-round pick