On Sunday, ESPN reported that suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was in further coaching limbo after having his contract extension voided by the NFL. Barring a new agreement with the Saints, Payton could become a free agent at the end of the season.
Although Payton has been tainted by the Bountygate scandal, you'd have to think that there still would be plenty of teams willing to hire a Super Bowl-winning coach, a man who owns one of the game's most brilliant offensive minds.
Owners and general managers would trip over themselves to make him an offer to come to cities that could have vacancies — Philadelphia, San Diego, Kansas City, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Tennessee seemingly among the options.
Let me see, did I leave any possibility out?
Oh, yeah ... Dallas — which happens to be the place I believe Payton will end up in 2013.
I think Payton and his agent, or someone close to Payton, leaked the story to ESPN for a number of possible reasons: to squeeze the Saints by putting public pressure on the organization to sign Payton; to show fans that he has been patient, but he's now being jerked around by the team and the commissioner (who already is hated in New Orleans); and/or to let other organizations know they can start showing interest in Payton — through whispering third-party ambassadors, of course.
There's still a lot that would have to transpire for Payton to become the Cowboys coach — namely the firing of current coach Jason Garrett. But it makes a lot of sense for Payton to be the next head coach in Dallas.
Here are 10 reasons why it will happen:
1. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is obsessed with winning. You hear it every time he pipes up in the media and guarantees a win, a championship, or that his team will kick the New York Giants' asses. As much as I like Garrett (a former teammate with the Giants) as a coach and a person, his team is not winning consistently. And worse, it's self-destructing late in games, which points to the coaching. Payton could fix that.
2. Jones usually gets what he wants — and has the money to get it. Despite all of the public votes of confidence for Garrett, Jones has a team that has won one playoff game in this millennium. He owns a team that plays a disproportionate number of times on national TV and usually not well. That embarrasses him.
3. Prior to the Sunday night game (another Cowboys' loss on national TV, by the way), Bob Costa interviewed the most important member of the Cowboys. No, not quarterback Tony Romo or tight end Jason Witten or wide receiver Dez Bryant or linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Costas interviewed Jones. As long as the Cowboys are about the guy in the front office, and no one on the field, they will not be a consistent winner.
4. And here's what irks Jones. As the de facto general manager, he has provided Garrett with enough talent to win, but the Cowboys remain chronic underachievers. The defense is among the top five in yards allowed per game, but is in the middle of the pack in points per game. Romo completes 65% of his passes, but has a sub-80 passer rating. He leads the NFL in interceptions and can't figure out how to win important games. Payton, who has one of the best killer instincts in the NFL, could fix that, too.
5. The Saints are past their peak. They won a magical Super Bowl following the 2009 season with an explosive offense, orchestrated by Payton and masterfully led by Drew Brees. The Saints also had an extraordinarily opportunistic defense that manufactured turnovers and scored eight defensive TDs. Those days are over. This season, they no longer can compete defensively. They're bottom of the league in turnovers and are getting gashed against the run, which puts them on the wrong side of the time-of-possession battle and negates the effectiveness of the offense. And it's not likely to get better soon.
6. Payton is cocky and loves a challenge, and what greater challenge than to be the catalyst for the ascension of the enigmatic Romo. Payton would love the challenge of creating an offensive system that allows Romo to thrive and become the champion that people have expected him to morph into for at least five years.
7. Payton wants to be seen as great. He's already a coach of lore in New Orleans for winning the only championship in franchise history, a title that's particularly poignant because it came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. Winning a Super Bowl in Dallas could make him a legend in another city and solidify his place in history.
8. Payton, the man, has been through a lot over the past year — a divorce and the Bountygate fiasco. The controversy has become one of the biggest distractions in league history, tainting all levels of the Saints organization. A personal and professional reboot could be a welcome lift for all parties, including Payton.
9. Payton already has a home in the Dallas area, a fact that started rumors of a potential job change a couple of years ago.
10. That leaves us with one important point to address: to coach the Cowboys, Payton likely would demand complete control over personnel. I believe Jones would give it to him if it brings the possibility of a championship. Even if it means Jones wouldn't get credit, at this stage of his life he might not care. If he'd be willing to sell his soul to the devil, he'd probably be willing to hand over the roster, too.
Of course this is speculation, and who knows if the relationship between Saints owner Tom Benson and Payton is strong enough to withstand all of the turmoil of the last year.
And who knows if Jones is truly committed to Garrett and the belief that he is the "long term" solution in Big D.
"This is a long-term thing with me," Jones said. "We know this is a short-term game. On the other hand, I have to also look at the long-term, and yes, that's what I like about the potential growth with Jason. I like the way the players respond for Jason. He gets a lot of effort out of these players. They have a lot of respect for him."
Sounds like wiggle room to me, and if there is one truth in the NFL, it is that there is no loyalty in it. History tells us that Jones is quick to pull the trigger if he believes his team is headed in the wrong direction.
The "Not For Long" league means words of encouragement and confidence are really just words.
"Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys are pleased to announce Sean Payton as the next head coach."
Now, those would be interesting words to hear!