Saints HC Sean Payton Not Certain To Return In 2022


After the 2020 season, Saints fans bid adieu to one franchise icon in quarterback Drew Brees. Now that the 2021 season is over, will New Orleans also have to say goodbye to the man who came to town with Brees 16 years ago and helped reverse the franchise’s fortunes?

Saints HC Sean Payton Not Certain To Return In 2022

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, head coach Sean Payton has not yet told the Saints that he is definitely returning for the 2022 campaign. He has been on vacation for over a week, and it sounds as though he is using that time to ponder his NFL future. Rapoport adds that Payton has “gone dark” on several people close to him.

Payton’s desire to go off the grid for a moment seems to have been borne out of his need to recharge after what his confidants tell Rapoport was “an incredibly challenging and difficult season” for him. New Orleans dealt with more than its fair share of injuries in 2021, and Payton was forced to cycle through four different passers in the first year of the post-Brees era. The QB situation was particularly taxing, and it has forced Payton to reevaluate his immediate future.

If he elects not to return to the New Orleans sidelines, Payton would likely not coach another club in 2022, per Rapoport. Instead, as Albert Breer of SI.com suggests, the 58-year-old may choose to follow Brees’ path and become a talking head somewhere, as TV networks have reportedly been gearing up to make a run at him (Twitter link).

Or, he could take a break from football entirely and rejoin the head coaching ranks in 2023 (though in such a scenario, a return to the Saints probably would not be in the cards, and New Orleans would end up trading him to another club). It’s likely that any team in need of an HC at that time would have Payton at or near the top of its list of preferred candidates, and a television opportunity will probably always be there for him whenever he chooses to retire from coaching for good. Indeed, Rapoport says that Payton is not considering official retirement at this point, and that if he steps away, it would only be for a year.

This is far from the first time that these types of rumors have surrounded Payton, who has publicly scoffed at them in the past. But Katherine Terrell, the Saints’ beat reporter for ESPN, suggests that there is real substance to this report (Twitter link). While Terrell believes Payton will be back in New Orleans in 2022, she concedes it is a situation to keep an eye on.

Payton is under contract through 2024 and is one of the league’s highest-paid coaches. It would no doubt be difficult for him to leave the city where he has built a terrific legacy, but it’s worth mentioning that the Saints will once again have an unenviable salary cap situation and do not have an obvious means of adding a championship-caliber QB to the roster. Perhaps Payton will decide that cutting ties now, while his stock is still as high as it can be, is the most prudent course of action.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who has landed a head coaching interview with the Bears, would perhaps be the Saints’ top choice to replace Payton. However, the club would have to conduct a complete search, not only for its own benefit, but to comply with Rooney Rule requirements. And with HC interviews around the league already well underway, New Orleans would have a lot of catching up to do.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.