DAT’s DAVIS: Sean Payton Announces He Is Stepping Away, Leaving NFC South WIDE Open

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

This 2021 Season, for better or for worse, will be one the Saints remember for a long time. From Hurricane Ida, to being displaced from their home state for over a month. From their home opener being in Jacksonville, to a mass of injuries. Even three separate instances of mass COVID-19 cases. All of it being capped off with this breaking news of Saints Head Coach Sean Payton announcing that he is “stepping away”. I was nine years old when Sean Payton first came to the Saints as their Head Coach, and every year since then has been one to remember. I appreciated Payton’s offensive, innovative genius. The more I grew up watching football, the more I came to appreciate him.

Since 2006, Sean Payton has posted a 152-89 overall record, 5 seasons with 12+ wins, AP Coach of the Year (2006), and won a Super Bowl. He’s also produced multiple NFC Championship berths. He’s gifted us some of my personal favorite players like Marques Colston, Drew Brees, Devery Henderson, Jimmy Graham, Cameron Jordan, Lance Moore, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Jerome Bushrod, Demario Davis, etc. with the help of staff. 

ESPN’s Dianna Russini claims that Sean Payton is not done coaching football in the future. Even if that is the case, for the immediate future, the Saints will have large task ahead of them for 2022. For starters, they face the AFC North & NFC West along with Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, & the Las Vegas Raiders as their 2022 opponents. They have a handful of starters as UFA this offseason such as LB Kwon Alexander, & S Marcus Williams, just to name a few. You could also factor in that they are projected to be $71M over the cap, but the Saints front office has always done well navigating around the salary cap. 

No matter who assumes the mantle as head coach, Sean Payton’s offensive genius and ability to put his players in the best positions to succeed was a major reason why the team managed to finish 2021-22 with a record above .500 despite all the adversity they’ve had to overcome. Many speculate that DC Dennis Allen is the next man up in line to assume the position. While I can see the logic behind it, let’s not forget that Allen was once the head coach for the Raiders & didn’t exactly do a decent job at it. A team that’s desperately in need of offensive boost, having a defensive minded coach would be fairly counterproductive. Filling in for a game or two is nothing like operating for an entire 17 game season. There’s also no guarantee that Sean Payton would even return back to the Saints as their head coach if and/or when he decides to return to coaching.

Payton’s name was always deeply connected to the Dallas Cowboys as a place he was going to be coaching next, and according to ProFootballTalk (PFT), that was closer to happening than most realize. PFT alleges that a deal was worked out, behind the scenes. That the team would’ve allowed the Cowboys to assume rights of Payton’s contract in exchange for compensation. What stopped this from happening? To my own surprise, former Pelicans player Anthony Davis.

Davis announced he would not sign another contract with the Pelicans, and subsequently requested a trade. Once that happened, Loomis allegedly told Payton that he personally could not be the common thread between a pair of high-profile Louisiana departures. It’s not a guaranteed thing to happen, especially considering Mike McCarthy is still the head coach of the Cowboys currently, but assuming this information by PFT is true, don’t be surprised if you see Sean Payton aligned with Dallas sometime after 2022.

The NFC South is about to become quite chaotic. Between the Panthers still searching for their QB, the Falcons potentially in strong consideration to trade wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Tampa Bay potentially losing Tom Brady to retirement along with several starters who are now UFA, and now the Saints losing Sean Payton with currently no QB to speak of, there is absolutely no telling who’s going to be the new leader of the South as no team currently is set up for long term success. If I had to take my pick of the lot, I would say it would probably be the Atlanta Falcons. A few additions to the offense while building upon their defense could land them as the next potential favorites of the NFC South when it’s all said and done.

No matter what happens, I’ll always be grateful to Sean Payton and how he changed the culture of the New Orleans Saints. Even taking all of his bad traits and tendencies into consideration, his good has stood out far more than his bad. One of the best to ever do it, without question.