After taking a year off from coaching, Sean Payton’s return to an NFL sideline was thought to be a foregone conclusion, particularly after landing recent interviews with Denver, Carolina, Houston and Arizona, the latter taking place later this week. However, that’s no longer the case with optimism waning that Payton, who is said to be seeking north of $20 million annually, will be hired this offseason, preferring to see what jobs open up in 2024.
“If you go through the different places that Sean Payton has interviewed, it does not seem like a second interview is coming with any of those places,” league insider Ian Rapoport said during his appearance Wednesday on NFL Now. “As of right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s a place for Sean Payton.”
Payton was not granted a second interview with the Panthers, who, instead, are moving forward with Frank Reich, Kellen Moore and interim coach Steve Wilks as finalists. Thursday’s interview will be his first with Arizona, though the Cardinals appear to be leaning toward candidates with defensive backgrounds including Steelers assistant Brian Flores, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and former Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Further complicating matters, Payton’s rights are still held by the Saints, who won’t let him out of his contract without compensation (likely a first-round pick).
Payton may be suffering from the perception that he’s not all in, content to return to his cushy gig as a Fox studio analyst if things don’t work out. A made man in football, Payton can afford to be picky, waiting out situations in Dallas and Los Angeles, which could be available as early as next year. Payton rose to prominence as an assistant under Cowboys coach Bill Parcells in the early 2000s and is said to be enamored with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, a prolific talent brimming with untapped potential.
What was initially treated as a temporary gig meant to keep him relevant amid his coaching hiatus, Payton has been lauded for his presence on Fox, bringing credibility and unique insight to a studio show that, for all its star power, was in desperate need of a fresh perspective. In doing so, Payton may have stumbled upon his dream job, occupying precious real estate in sports media, working a fraction of the hours at a comparable salary to coaching.
Payton could still end up getting a job this cycle, though Mike Garafolo suspects that the longer this plays out, the more likely he is to remain at Fox. “He’s not that desperate to get back into coaching that he’s just going to take any job. It was going to have to be the right situation,” opined Garafolo on NFL Network. “It’s definitely more likely than not that Sean Payton goes back and does another year of TV rather than coaching.”
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