With Payton era over, Allen and Saints must establish their own identity

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Dennis Allen
(Photo: Parker Waters)

It was a wonderful experience that ended last February. Although some still pined for it, Sean Payton was not going to make a triumphant return to New Orleans to rescue a listing ship.

That ship sailed.

On the surface, getting a first-round pick and a second-round pick is sound.

The puzzling aspect is why the Saints had to give up a third-round pick?

No, the Saints were never going to hit the jackpot compared to other coaches who were under contracts to teams who were traded to other franchises.

That included Bill Parcells, who netted first, second, third and fourth-round picks for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick produced first, fourth and seventh-round picks when he went to New England.

Jon Gruden got the Raiders two first-round picks and two second round picks.

Note that in none of those deals did the team trading for a coach receive any compensation from the team it dealt with.

With regard to Payton, the question persists.

Why Denver?

Simply put, the Broncos were the best job available in this coaching cycle.

Payton was itching to coach again and did not want to sit out another year.

Payton knew that if he sat out another year, perhaps his bright star would fade a bit while other stars, other flavors of the day, emerged as desirable head coaching candidates.

Payton did not see the Los Angeles Chargers or Dallas Cowboys jobs open up, jobs he would have loved to take.

Payton sees a dynamic ownership group with deep pockets that wants to win.

Payton sees a previously superb quarterback in Russell Wilson whom he does not feel is done, despite his miserable 2022 season.

The Broncos have a good defense, when healthy, and have other players who, when healthy, will make them a better team.

Additionally, Payton bought a residence in Idaho last offseason and spent a lot of time there so heading north was not a shock.

On the other hand, Payton goes to a very tough division, dealing with a dynasty in Kansas City, a talented team in the Chargers and a talented, rudderless ship in Las Vegas.

Those who opine or believe that Payton is overrated and that his success was exclusively tied to Drew Brees are entitled to their opinions but I disagree and digress.

Brees was a good quarterback in San Diego.

Brees became a great quarterback in New Orleans.

While Brees is a transcendent player and a future Hall of Fame inductee to any Hall of Fame within reach, Payton deserves credit for developing Brees.

Incidentally, the narrative that Payton won only because of Brees is simply not true.

Brees, unquestionably, was the leader, the driving force and the best player in New Orleans.

When Brees did not play, until Trevor Siemian took the controls in 2022, here are records of others who started at quarterback for Payton in New Orleans:

Teddy Bridgewater 5-0
Taysom Hill 7-2
Jameis Winston 6-2

Payton is a dynamic play-caller.

Payton is a confident, even arrogant coach which is a quality that actually makes him as good as he is.

Payton’s confidence rubs off on his players.

Now, the ball is in Dennis Allen’s court.

By all accounts, the 2022 season was a huge disappointment for the Saints.

That is particularly true when you consider how bad the NFC South was, how it was there for the taking.

The handling of the quarterback position was confusing and simply awkward, not handled well.

It is not a question of whether Andy Dalton deserved to start or not but how the situation was handled.

That said, Allen’s biggest issue and biggest question moving forward is finding a quarterback to win with in the NFL next season and for seasons to come.

Allen will not find another player the caliber of Brees but he needs to find his version of Brees that he can marry his defensive skills to in the quest to become a success.

If Allen cannot do that in 2023, the Saints may be searching for the next Payton, moving on.

Allen got no breaks in 2022.

First, it was always going to be very difficult to succeed a legend, easily the most successful coach in franchise history, a dynamic figure who had control of things.

Second, there was no Brees and no upper echelon level quarterback to lean on.

Third, there was the Michael Thomas distraction and disappointment.

Then, there were the massive number of injuries to key players which helped torpedo what could have been a solid team.

There were games to be won which the Saints did not win.

Good, well coached teams find ways to win those games.

Good teams create turnovers and win the turnover battle.

Good teams do not incur a large amount of pre-snap penalties and do not incur so many critical penalties in the secondary.

The 2022 Saints were not a good team. You cannot say, based on results, that they were a well-coached team.

Can that change?

First, we will see what the coaching staff looks like when the dust clears. Is anyone else departing for another opportunity? Will Payton poach one or two current Saints assistants?

Then, we will see which players are erased from the roster, including some big names.

Allen needs to establish his own identity.

With the enormous shadow of Payton now dissipating a bit since he is back in the saddle, it is time for Allen to saddle up and put his stamp on the team.

While many will focus on the Saints now owning the 29th pick in the upcoming draft, keep in mind that the Saints seldom stand pat on draft day and love to trade up.

If the Saints love a quarterback prospect not named Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, perhaps they could position themselves to trade up for a player they really like to develop and build around.

If not, the Saints should address other specific needs on both sides up front and at running back while targeting a veteran quarterback to man the controls. Bringing Andy Dalton back as a quality backup would be sound. That was the original plan, anyway. That veteran will not be Tom Brady for either Allen or Payton as Brady has announced his retirement, once again.

What can we expect in New Orleans moving forward?

More Payton-era players will be gone.

More Payton-era coaches may be gone.

Allen is a fine man and a fine defensive coach. He has the support of players, management and ownership but that could disappear quickly if the Saints field another loser in 2022.

Can Allen be a good head coach?

We will find out now and find out rather quickly. That has certainly not been proven, to this point.

While the shadow is not as strong, it will always exist in New Orleans, thanks to the long run of success Payton brought to the Saints.

While Payton has departed for higher altitude, it is time for Allen to raise the level of his team, now clearly his team, to a higher altitude.

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Ken Trahan


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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