A year after the Colts considered acquiring Saints coach Sean Payton, and a year after Payton signed a lucrative extension in New Orleans, a change of scenery is still possible.This is the time of year when "league sources" always seem to have something interesting to say about either Drew Brees or Sean Payton every Sunday morning. It's been like this for several years now so who knows how much stock to put into it.
League sources said the Saints -- adrift in another lost season and with veteran quarterback Drew Brees spiraling in recent weeks -- would consider moving the coach should there be suitors, and it would not likely require hefty trade compensation.
In any case, it was probably inevitable that the the 2016 millennialist doomsaying mood would catch on with Saints fans. The fin de siecle talk is definitely getting louder around here. Larry Holder wrote about it this week. He doesn't necessarily think this is the end, though.
The major aspect holding me back for anticipating a change with Payton is the contract. But history has also shown numerous times that coaches who've won at least one Super Bowl for their respective teams receive a longer coaching leash than others.How long should Payton's leash be? I'd say it's probably long enough to hold him one more year. At least, it makes sense if we're being calm and logical about things. I know, I know, that very rarely is actually the case. But look. Brees's contract expires after next season. He's 38 years old and his last few games have been not so hot leading to the inevitable whispers. But his 2016 overall has actually been very very good. Unless his arm falls off at some point during the next few weeks, there's no reason to believe, based on this season's performance, that he can't still get it done. And if we're going to bet on Brees having one more season in him, there's no good reason to have him go through that season starting over with a new head coach.
Look at Payton's history. The Saints coach followed up his Super Bowl-winning campaign with three consecutive seasons of at least 11 regular season wins. I can tell you within the building on Airline Drive that no one is holding the team's 7-9 record in 2012 as part of Payton's resume since the NFL banished him as part of the bounty scandal.
So Payton has compiled three winning seasons, followed by three seasons of teams reaching the .500 mark at best in any of those years. That won't change in 2016 either.
I looked back at four coaches who won Super Bowls and ended up being fired: Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden and Tom Coughlin. All of them had long leashes.
That seems obvious enough in and of itself. Consider also that the team actually hasn't been all that bad this year. This has been an entertaining season of Saints football. A lot of ridiculous things have happened during these games. Sometimes they've been positive ridiculous, but more often they've been negative ridiculous. Oh well. That's how it goes some years. Most pro football rosters are so evenly talented that, aside from the very best and very worst few teams, a matchup between any two is basically decided by chance. The 2016 Saints are well within the group of perfectly cromulent teams who can randomly win or lose each week. Fans who actually remember that this is a thing they follow for fun shouldn't have any reason to complain about that.
More to the point, though, anyone from the set of teams who aren't total trainwrecks can make the jump back into playoff level competition very quickly. And there's no reason to believe the 2017 Saints couldn't do that. They will go into the offseason in better cap shape than they have been in a while and, possibly, with a relatively high (Fournette range?) draft pick. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. And I'd be happy to talk with y'all about dumping Payton then. But there's no harm in letting it ride one more year first.