Every single decision a sports franchise makes is looked at under a microscope. The constant scrutiny causes organizations to develop a “win-now” mentality. Often, that desire to contend comes at the cost of continuity. It’s key for decision makers in front offices to know when is a good time to start fresh and when is a good time to stay the course. The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick have proved that continuity at the head coaching position can lead to sustained success.
Trading Sean Payton Would’ve Been a Mistake
Sean Payton is one of six active head coaches with a Super Bowl championship. It came as a big surprise this offseason when Payton’s name was floated around in trade rumors. No one is comparing Payton to Belichick here, but he is widely regarded as one of the league’s most gifted offensive minds. Since Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints haven’t ranked lower than sixth in total yards or 12th in total points in any season. They’ve won over 58% of their games together. To put that into perspective, the Saints franchise has won 40% of its games without Coach Payton at the helm.
While this improvement could be attributed to the presence of Brees, one would have to look no further than the 2012 season to see the value Payton brings to this team. In 2012, Payton was suspended for the duration of the season for his involvement in the “Bountygate” scandal. During Payton’s absence, the team stumbled to a 7-9 record. Now, after three consecutive 7-9 seasons himself, it was Payton whose name appeared to be on the trading block. However, the recent lack of success has nothing to do with coaching. It has to do with rash spending decisions made by the front office in free agency. Dead money on the cap has made it hard for the Saints to acquire talent on the defensive side of the ball and the revolving door at defensive coordinator has made it hard for younger players to buy into a system.
Even after a more optimistic 7-9 season in 2016, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. The Saints were likely shopping him. Trading coaches in sports is rare, but not unprecedented. Belichick himself was part of a “trade” back in 2000. According to Eric Melendez of Fansided, Belichick resigned one day after being hired as New York Jets head coach and signed to the same position with the Patriots just three weeks later. The Jets demanded compensation from New England citing that Belichick was still under contract. Jon Gruden was also traded when he was sent from Oakland to Tampa Bay for draft picks.
Two main questions need to be asked when determining whether or not you should trade your coach. The first, what are you getting in return? And the second, who are you going to get to replace him? In the Saints case, teams weren’t offering up much for Payton’s services. According to Will Brinson of CBS Sports, the Saints weren’t even being offered a first round pick. In 2001, Oakland received two first rounders AND two second rounders in exchange for Gruden. When looking at potential replacements, it was evident by the coaching hires this offseason that the market for head coaches was pretty bare. Between the six new head coaches hired, there is only 35 games of NFL head coaching experience (1 by Anthony Lynn, 34 by Doug Marrone). No coach the Saints could’ve brought in would be better or command the respect that Sean Payton does.
The Saints have started their offseason by resisting to make yet another rash decision, trading Coach Payton. Saints fans should be optimistic to have their brilliant head coach back for another season. A successful one should lead to many more years with Sean Payton running the show in the Big Easy.