After what is certain to be the worst calendar year in the history of Sean Payton’s career, he is expected to stay on with the New Orleans Saints and should sign a new five-year deal with the franchise this off-season. Payton hasn’t just been sidelined this season, he has been completely banished from the professional level of football because of the ramifications of the bountygate scandal. There was some talk that he would not return to Louisiana, instead potentially taking a big name job elsewhere, such as with the Dallas Cowboys.
Returning to New Orleans may be the move Payton is desperate to do so he can right his wrongs and stabilize a franchise that is faltering, but that doesn’t mean that he is best serving his own career by doing so. Payton’s first head coaching job came with the then lowly Saints as he led the revival of a football team trapped amidst the wreckage of a city destroyed by hurricane Katrina.
The Saints’ job wasn’t a highly sought after one, but Payton embraced his opportunity and led the city to it’s proudest sporting moment since the disaster, a Super Bowl victory in 2009. Payton is loved in New Orleans and the franchise is desperate to have him back, but the idea that he has to be loyal to them for his past failings is inaccurate.
Payton should have done more to prevent the bounty program in New Orleans and he let down the franchise by failing to. The fans, and the owner seemingly, don’t hold that against him and instead look to his track record of winning and building a franchise from nothing into a Super Bowl contender. However, fans, and often times owners, are fickle. Fans will quickly turn on Payton if his team doesn’t rebound again after he returns and the owner won’t fear firing him if it gets to that point. It’s not completely absurd to think that that point is much closer than one suspects.
The 49-year-old coach is an offensive guru who gave up essentially all of his defensive responsibilities to Gregg Williams during the Saints’ rebuild. Without Payton this season, the Saints’ offense suffered a notable drop-off despite still having one of the most talented collections of talent in the whole league. Most importantly, Drew Brees‘ level of play was below par, although part of that may be due to his long-standing feud with the franchise over his contract in the off-season preceding. With Brees back for the whole year and Payton returning, the offense should be one of the very best in the NFL again next year. They were third in scoring this year, but a full seven points behind the New England Patriots in first place.
Being top five isn’t enough for the Saints. Being top five is enough for most teams, but when your defense is giving up over 27 points per game and failing to produce the big plays it lived on in the past consistently, a season of failure is inevitable. That defense isn’t developing or full of young stars waiting to break out either. There is youth there and players such as Malcolm Jenkins, Cameron Jordan, Patrick Robinson, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette all have varying levels of potential yet to be filled, however the overall lack of quality of the veterans and absence of superstar pieces to build around make for a long way back to respectability.
The Saints’ defense needs an overhaul of talent to be infused into an identity that will give the unit a direction towards recovery. That is not something Payton is capable of providing. Payton put forward his own money to help the Saints hire Williams before their last Super Bowl victory. If he had any ability to create a championship worthy defense, he wouldn’t have ever done that. If he is to rebuild this defense, he may have to do it again.
If he doesn’t bring in the right man, Payton could quickly regret re-signing in New Orleans. Had he left for the Cowboys, Cleveland Browns or Kansas City Chiefs, he would have at least had many more defensive pieces to work with and the capabilities to create a productive offense.