Until the Los Angeles Rams get an answer one way or the other on what head coach Sean McVay decides to do, there will be a lot of speculation and uncertainty regarding who the next head coach will be.
I want to preface this by saying, if McVay decides to return to the Rams in 2023, he should absolutely be the head coach. Considering that McVay is at least a top-10 head coach in the NFL, it’s very difficult to do much better than what he brings to the table.
With all of that being said, if McVay does decide to leave, who the Rams hire as their next head coach gets somewhat complicated. There are the obvious in-house options such as Raheem Morris and Thomas Brown. The team could also look outside the organization at someone like DeMeco Ryans or Shane Waldron.
Where things get interesting is a former NFL head coach who took his own coaching break this season. That coach is of course former New Orleans Saints head coach, Sean Payton. Who Payton potentially coaches next season has become a hot topic of discussion. It’s very possible that Payton isn’t attracted to any of the open positions and takes another year off
According to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport in December, Payton would prefer to coach either of the teams in Los Angeles whether that be the Rams or the Chargers.
This matches a similar report by MMQB’s Albert Breer in which he noted that geography is important for Payton and that he likes California. What makes this even more interesting is that among the favorites to be the next Rams head coach, Payton is right behind McVay at number two according to oddsmakers.
Per @Covers, odds on who’s going to be the Rams’ next head coach are below:— Rams Brothers (@RamsBrothers) January 11, 2023
• Sean McVay: -220
• Sean Payton: +550
• DeMeco Ryans: +550
• Raheem Morris: +950
• Shane Waldron: +1100
Very interesting list.
There are a few things to consider here.
The first is that Sean Payton is still under contract with the Saints until 2024. While teams can ask permission to interview Payton, in order to hire him, they would need to compensate the Saints. The presumption here is that would be done with draft picks. The Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans have already gotten permission to interview the former Saints head coach.
The second thing to consider is the market. The Los Angeles Rams are no longer in St. Louis. Hiring a top-coordinator or simply promoting from within isn’t going to excite the fanbase. That’s especially the case when a portion of the fanbase has been asking for one of the internal candidates, namely Raheem Morris, to be fired.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired in-house with Todd Bowles following Bruce Arians’ departure. While the Buccaneers won the NFC South, Tom Brady suffered the first losing season of his career. The Saints went in-house as well, replacing Payton with Dennis Allen. Allen was arguably on the hot seat as the Saints had their first losing season in six years.
Since McVay arrived in 2017, the bar has been raised. This is a team that has gone out and traded for Marcus Peters, Jalen Ramsey, Brandin Cooks, Von Miller, and Matthew Stafford, giving up premier draft picks to do so. The fanbase expects big, flashy moves.
There isn’t a flashier move that the Rams could make at head coach than hiring someone of Sean Payton’s caliber. The Rams’ window to hoist another Lombardi is quickly closing. With a new coach that lacks playoff experience, the team would almost be forced to start a rebuild. Hiring Payton would allow them to continue on the current path.
It’s also noting that Payton has been eyeing Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator if he were to return. Fangio is one of the NFL’s top defensive minds and it thought to be heavily sought by Payton.
Now, I know how a portion of the Rams fanbase feels about Payton. To say the least, he’s not well-liked. This is a torn relationship that goes back to a feud between Marcus Peters and Sean Payton in 2018. Following a 45-35 loss, Peters was quoted saying,
“Tell Sean Payton to keep talking that s---. We’re going to see him soon, you feel me? Because I like what he was saying on the sidelines, too. So tell him to keep talking that s---, and I hope you see me soon. We’re going to have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
The Rams then beat the Saints in the NFC Championship with the help of a certain pass-interference non-call.
Last season, had the Rams beaten the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18, it would have paved the way for the Saints to make the postseason in Payton’s final year. Instead, the Rams lost in overtime. While speaking sarcastically prior to the NFC Championship game, Payton said he was rooting against the Rams. Payton said, “We didn’t get in the playoffs. We’re rooting against the Rams because of that.”
There’s a grudge from both sides.
However, personal feelings aside, a coach of this caliber does not come available very often. Prior to stepping away, it could certainly be argued that Payton was among the top-5 NFL coaches behind Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, and Mike Tomlin.
With the Saints, a team that had just five playoff appearances and a single playoff win in franchise history, Payton went 161-97 with nine trips to the playoffs and a Super Bowl win.
This brings us back to the first point. If the Rams were to go out and hire Sean Payton as their next head coach, they would need to somehow compensate the Saints.
Arizona: Vance Joseph or Payton— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 11, 2023
Carolina: Steichen or Ben Johnson
Denver: Harbaugh or Quinn
Indy: Harbaugh, Johnson, Saturday
LAR (*if it comes open): Payton or R Morris https://t.co/Igz3A0vIQH
The Rams have already traded their 2023 first round pick in the Matthew Stafford trade. Given the current state of the team, they really need to hang on to their 36th overall pick this year in the second round as well as their 2024 first round pick. The roster needs re-tooling and the best way to do that is with premier draft picks. Les Snead and Kevin Demhoff really can’t afford to give up more draft capital in big moves.
However, there’s one thing that the Rams could give up that the Saints might be interested in and that’s the rights to Sean McVay. As mentioned earlier, Payton is under contract with the Saints until 2024. That means that this offseason and the following offseason, teams would need to compensate the Saints if they were to hire Payton.
Meanwhile, Sean McVay is under contract with the Rams until 2026.
Former Saints head coach Sean Payton explains his contract situation with New Orleans and says that the Broncos were the first team to reach out to him. pic.twitter.com/lqD4hnOjTi— Doug Rush (@TheDougRush) January 8, 2023
While it would be nice if McVay took next year off and then returned to the Rams the following season as the head coach, that would be unprecedented. The closest thing to that ever happening would be when the Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt split head coaching duties for the Saints in 2012 during the “bounty-gate” season in which Payton was suspended.
That was the only season over a five-year span in which the Saints missed the postseason. This would be comparable to taking a football “gap-year”. It would seem unfair to Raheem Morris or Thomas Brown to give them the head coaching job, only to strip the title away one year later.
Trading the Saints the rights to McVay would give them two more years of control of a top head coach candidate than they have with Payton. If a team wanted to hire McVay, similar to Payton, they would need to compensate the Saints. Additionally, if the Saints were to fire Dennis Allen next season, they could potentially replace him with McVay as they would already have his coaching rights.
The added twist is here is that nobody really knows when or even if McVay would return to coaching. Would McVay take a one year break? Two years? When Dick Vermeil left coaching due to burnout in 1982, he did’t return until 1997. Jon Gruden began broadcasting in 2009 with ESPN and took a decade-long break until he returned in 2018 to coach the Las Vegas Raiders.
It’s certainly possible that at 36 years old, McVay decides to start a family, focus on his personal life, and then return to coaching when he’s in his mid-40s. In other words, he could wait out the duration his contract, leaving the Saints in this case, with nothing.
Trading the right of Sean McVay for the rights to Sean Payton is an interesting scenario. McVay has yet to make a final decision and therefore, we don’t even know if the Rams have interest in Payton.
However, if McVay does step away, this is Los Angeles. Boring moves don’t get patience.