Payton trade makes Saints offseason much more interesting

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Sean Payton
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

The New Orleans Saints offseason just got a lot more interesting.

The Saints finally achieved closure on the Sean Payton era when they finalized a trade that lets their former head coach out of the final two years of his contract and allows him to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos immediately.

Numerous reliable reports said the compensation that the Saints received from the Broncos consists of a No. 1 draft pick (No. 29 overall) in the April Draft and a No. 2 in 2024. The Saints also will send their No. 3 in 2024 to Denver. So the bottom line is a low No. 1 and an upgrade from a No. 3 to a No. 2 next year.

We can quibble about whether the Saints received what they “should have received” as compensation, but that’s all it would be – quibbling. The same evaluations happen with every trade.

The Saints made the best deal they felt they could make.

Had the Saints turned down the offer and prevented Payton from going to Denver, it’s very likely Payton would have stayed out of coaching for another year and the Saints would have been left hoping for a better deal next year.

But no one knows what jobs will be open after next season. No one knows if anyone looking to hire Payton would want him badly enough to offer appreciably more than what the Saints got from the Broncos.

But we do know that a year from now Payton’s contract with the Saints would have had just one year remaining, which could have weakened the Saints’ negotiating position.

Furthermore, if the Saints spurned the Broncos’ offer they would play the 2023 season without the player they will now draft at No. 29 in the first round in April.

So the Saints took the bird in the hand rather than waiting to pursue two in the bush.

But regardless of whether the Saints got fair value for Payton or got snookered, they can now move on from Payton and the uncertainty of compensation for letting him out of his contract.

And they now have a better opportunity to get better during this offseason than they had before the trade.

The Saints now have a No. 1 draft choice, which they were lacking after sending their own No. 1 pick to Philadelphia so they could draft Chris Olave last year.

This gives them a more viable opportunity to bring in an impact rookie – perhaps a quarterback, perhaps a wide receiver, defensive tackle or any other candidate to fill one of their myriad needs.

The acquisition of a No. 2 next year, even at the cost of a No. 3 next year, gives them an additional asset to dangle – perhaps to move up in the first round or otherwise try and strengthen the roster of a team that finished 7-10 this season.

And it wouldn’t be surprising if Payton tried to put part of his band back together. He’s likely to at least initiate trade talks for some of his former players that he covets, thus creating opportunities for the Saints.

Payton might also covet someone from the front office, perhaps VP/Assistant GM – College Personnel Jeff Ireland, Director of Pro Personnel Michael Parenton or VP Football Administration Khai Harley.

Saints co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen already has left for the Falcons’ defensive coordinator job.

The other co-defensive coordinator, secondary coach Kris Richard, likely would be an attractive candidate for Payton to hire, but the Saints can block him from leaving by naming Richard defensive coordinator and giving him play-calling responsibilities.

Payton’s longest-tenured assistant in New Orleans was offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who apparently remains in Saints head coach Dennis Allen’s plans for 2023 despite a disappointing performance by the offense in 2022.

But Payton clearly saw value in Carmichael because he kept him on staff for his entire tenure and gradually expanded his responsibilities. If Payton has a vision for Carmichael on his Denver staff, it would give Allen an opportunity to further revamp an offensive staff that already has an opening with the recent firing of tight ends coach/run game coordinator Dan Roushar.

The Saints’ offseason began with the expectation that an overhaul in the wake of the team’s worst record in 17 seasons wouldn’t happen.

The organization chose to retain Allen, made just one change (to date) on his staff and lacked a No. 1 draft. It still faces more than $50 million in payroll trimming in order to become salary-cap compliant.

But the trade of Payton to the Broncos strengthened the Saints’ draft hand and created other possibilities for change during the offseason.

Whether on balance the dominoes that fall after this trade are more good or not-so-good remains to be seen.

But certainly the next few months will be more interesting.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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