Saints coaching rumors: Sean Payton reportedly mulling 'mini retirement' in 2022

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Saints coaching rumors: Sean Payton reportedly mulling 'mini retirement' in 2022
© Provided by Sporting News

Saints coach Sean Payton may not return to the team in 2022.

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Per a report from NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, sources close to the 16th-year head coach has not yet committed to returning to New Orleans next season, despite having three years remaining on his contract worth $45 million. Nor has he informed the team that he will return.

Per NFL.com, Payton would likely not retire permanently, though it still would likely end his tenure as Saints coach.

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Payton is coming off a 9-8 campaign following four straight seasons of at least 11 wins and a berth in the NFC divisional round. The 2021 campaign was the first since 2016 that the Saints neither won double-digit games nor made the playoffs (they went 7-9 in three straight seasons from 2014-16).

Sporting News breaks down why Payton may walk away from the NFL in 2022, and the effect it may have on the Saints and the remainder of his coaching career.

Is Sean Payton leaving the Saints?

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Nothing is set in stone as of now: NFL.com is only citing sources who say Payton — who has been on vacation for over a week — has not informed them or the team what his intentions are for the 2022 season. The report also indicates the coach has “gone dark” on several people close to him.

If Payton does leave the Saints in 2022, sources told NFL.com, it would not be to coach another team. It would instead be a “mini retirement” — a recharging year for the coach, who has led the Saints every season since 2006 (barring 2012, when he was suspended the entire year as a result of his involvement with the New Orleans’ bounty scandal).

That said, removing himself from the team in 2022 would likely close the door on him returning to the franchise. If Payton were to return to coaching in 2023, it would almost certainly be with another team.

Why is Sean Payton considering leaving?

Per NFL.com, the massive influx of injuries the Saints suffered in 2021 — which necessitated the use of four quarterbacks in Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and rookie Ian Books — was “trying and extremely taxing” for Payton.

Indeed, the Saints’ passing offense plummeted in the first year without Drew Brees; it ranked 32nd nationally with a paltry 187.4 yards per game. The Saints’ rushing offense was markedly better (ranking 15th in the league with 117.1 yards per game), but still saw a drastic drop from the previous year’s production, which saw it rank sixth in the league with 141.6 yards per game.

As noted by NFL.com, taking the 2022 season off would not mean the end of Payton’s coaching career, per se. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians retired from the Cardinals in 2017 before taking over in Tampa Bay in 2019. That would almost certainly spell the end of his tenure in New Orleans, however, where he is the franchise’s all-time winningest coach with a mark of 152-89.

It also noted that, prior to the end of the 2021 season, “at least one” TV network approached Payton.

Who would replace Sean Payton with the Saints?

NFL.com reports that Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be a prime candidate to replace Payton as head coach. Allen, who has served as defensive coordinator under Payton since 2015 and who has a head coaching interview with the Bears, has fielded one of the best statistical units in the league in 2021.

The Saints’ defense ranks seventh nationally in total defense (318.2 yards per game); 14th in pass defense (224.8 ypg); fourth in rush defense (93.5 ypg); and fourth in scoring defense (19.7 points per game). It is also tied for 10th in takeaways (25), helping the Saints rank tied for eighth in turnover margin (plus-seven). It also pitched just the third shutout of Tom Brady’s career — and first since 2006 — in a 9-0 win over the Buccaneers.

That said, NFL.com reports the Saints would conduct a full coaching search to make sure it has the best coach to replace Payton.

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