Sean Payton’s career options keep expanding.
The Carolina Panthers are eyeing the Super Bowl-winning coach as the savior who can lead them back to the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl, sources told Front Office Sports.
The Panthers might be willing to wait a year while the former New Orleans Saints head coach recharges his batteries on TV. Matt Rhule is currently entering his third season as head coach of the Panthers.
The 58-year old Payton currently has TV offers from both Amazon and Fox Sports.
He could serve as either studio analyst for Amazon’s Thursday Night Football coverage or as a game/studio analyst for Fox.
During Payton’s season-long suspension in 2012 over “Bountygate,” Fox was the only network to offer Payton a job.
During a podcast appearance with former Saints kicker Morten Andersen, Payton indicated an announcement of his new TV job studio was only days away.
But nobody expects Payton to retire from the sidelines for good. Instead, he’s expected to re-emerge as an NFL head coach during the 2023 season after spending a year on TV.
A TV “mini-retirement” is a common technique employed by coaches who want to collect a paycheck while taking some time away from the grueling grind of coaching.
Bruce Arians, for example, called games on CBS Sports for one season in 2018, before returning to coach Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship for the 2020 season. Urban Meyer is expected to return to Fox as a college football studio analyst after getting fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If another franchise does hire Payton, they would have to compensate the Saints since he’s under contract through 2024. The cost could be as high as a first- or second-round draft pick.
A Panthers spokesperson told FOS on Thursday: “We would not talk to — or consider — a coach who’s under contract with another team.”
Payton’s reps could not be reached for comment.
After finishing 5-12 during the 2021 season, the Panthers missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Despite two straight five-win seasons, billionaire owner David Tepper recently gave the 47-year old Rhule his blessing.
“I believe in Matt. He has my full support,” said Tepper.
In January, Payton announced he was stepping down from the Saints job after 15 years at the helm. He was making around $9 million annually from the Saints. If he returns to coaching, there will be plenty of teams besides the Panthers vying for his services.
The Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, and Miami Dolphins have been cited as possible suitors.
Payton served as an assistant coach and quarterbacks coach with the Cowboys from 2003 to 2005. He grew up in Illinois — and played quarterback at Eastern Illinois University.
Although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave head coach Mike McCarthy a vote of confidence for 2022, media outlets keep referring to Payton as the “coach-in-waiting” for America’s Team.
Payton told Andersen he understands the speculation about his future. But he doesn’t have a “preconceived” notion of what team he wants to coach.
“Down the road, if I choose to come back and coach, great,” Payton said. “But you want to be good at whatever you’re doing. So I’m looking forward to trying to be good in the studio.
Payton led the Saints to their first and only Super Bowl victory after the 2009 season. Before retiring, he was the league’s second-longest-tenured coach, behind Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.
Even if the Panthers want Payton, the question remains: Would Payton want the Panthers? The Saints would also have to be willing to trade Payton to their longtime NFC South rivals. After joining the league as an expansion franchise in 1995, the Panthers are 0-2 in Super Bowl appearances.
With a net worth of $16.7 billion, Tepper is the richest owner in the NFL, according to ProFootballTalk. The hedge fund billionaire ranks No. 8 among Forbes’ list of world’s Top 10 richest sports owners.
UPDATE: Asked about the FOS story, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said it was “probably not” something he wanted to hear. But that it was part of the job. And owner David Tepper told him not to worry about his job security.
“With regards to that report, first I heard of it was Dave called me and told me that it was going to come out,” said Rhule according to ProFootballTalk. “They had called him, that there was nothing to it. I know Dave Tepper well enough to believe he wouldn’t be talking to another coach right now. He came to my house two-and-a-half years ago and told me this is a five-year rebuild. That’s what he said to me. He convinced me then to come be a part of it and build it with him. We’re not where we want to be. I don’t think it’s gonna take five years, I don’t want it to take five years, but those are the words he said to me.”
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