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Is there any chance that Sean Payton will take over at Carolina?

With the announcement that Matt Rhule has been fired from the Carolina Panthers coaching job, the rumor mill is swirling and one name keeps bubbling up

Sean Payton con los Saints
Sarah StierAFP

Matt Rhule was released by Carolina and in a simultaneous move, Baker Mayfield was benched for a few weeks, ostensibly with an ankle sprain. The rumor mills sped into overtime and started churning out speculation that Mayfield’s job is hanging by a very thin thread.

And then Moses parted the waters.

Sean Payton, whose sudden retirement after the 2020 season sent shock waves through the NFL, perhaps even contributing to the return of Tom Brady from his own abortive retirement, stuck his oar into the swirling waters. A graduate of the Bill Parcells assistant coaching crop, Payton is a tactical master who tops the list of every team when they consider coaches to hire.

Speaking with Colin Cowherd, Payton called the Carolina head coaching job “attractive” and sent the NFL into a buzz. Could he possibly come to Carolina?

In classic Payton fashion, he didn’t say no.

It is a tantalizing idea, especially given that Payton has a history of doing exactly what the Panthers need done, namely going into a struggling franchise and turning it around. He did it in Dallas when he got them to sign Tony Romo, reportedly as almost the lone voice in the Cowboys organization who wanted the quarterback, and then Payton did the same thing on an even bigger stage when he took the perennial loser New Orleans Saints and brought them a Super Bowl win. More importantly, he left New Orleans with an appetite in their mouths for winning, finishing his tenure as the winningest coach in Saints history.

There is no doubt that he could do the same at Carolina. After all, the hill that the Panthers have to climb is nowhere near as steep as the one that the Saints had. In Payton’s words, Carolina is “almost a unicorn: the open job with a great QB, waiting for you to come in and be the foster parent.”

Even more delicious is the report that Payton informed the Saints’ General Manager Mickey Loomis that he would take Taysom Hill off their hands “in a year or two.”

But while it could be an outstanding possibility, there is a major fly in the ointment. The Saints own Sean Payton’s contract until the end of 2024. And while contracts can be bought out, there is no conceivable scenario which would see New Orleans hand the architect of their own success over to a division rival like Carolina.

While Saints owner Gail Benson could be convinced to let Payton go for a ton of cash, it would have to be to a team that will not directly threaten the Saints’ chances of getting into the playoffs. No matter how tantalizing this may sound, and it most certainly is tantalizing, I am afraid that Sean Payton will not be in Charlotte any time soon.


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