A big time coach could be on the market after the 2012 season. Sunday morning Adam Schefter reported that Sean Payton’s long-term contract extension with the New Orleans Saints has been voided by the NFL. This actually happened at some point in the past year but the news is only now being leaked out. So Payton’s deal with the Saints only has one year left on it. This means Payton could be a free agent after the 2012 season. As Mike Florio explains, Payton’s status all depends on how the NFL decides to count 2012. Payton is suspended and the league could decide that 2013 is actually the last year of his deal. In which case Payton would not be free until 2014.
The whys and wherefores of this are all rather bewildering and better explained by lawyer Florio. For our purposes, we’ll assume 2012 is Payton’s last year under contract to the Saints. So in 2013 he’ll be free to sign with whatever team wants him (assuming he doesn’t just want to return to the Saints for even more money than he was supposed to get before). Speculation about Payton’s potential landing spot is naturally focused on Dallas, because Dallas as we know is the center of the football universe (wanking motion). But what about the plucky little Vikings? Let’s wedge ourselves into this conversation too.
The first issue of course is that the Vikings already have a head coach, by the name of Leslie Frazier. Leslie is still under contract after this season and there are no indications right now that he’s in any danger of being fired. In fact, with the Vikings off to a better-than-expected start, Frazier’s job feels more secure now than it did at the start of the year. But let’s play the “what if” game. As in, what if the Vikings totally collapse the rest of the year? What if they finish 5-11 after a 5-2 start? Then I think Frazier would be on the hot seat. Especially if a big fish like Payton happened to be available as a replacement.
So let’s say the Vikes play terrible the rest of the year and Zygi Wilf decides Frazier isn’t the man for the job. He calls up Sean Payton. What does Sean Payton want? A whole poopload of money, for one thing. With Payton’s resume, he can pretty much name his price. Any team that hires him will likely have to make him the highest-paid coach in NFL history. But would he actually be worth it?
This brings us back to Dallas again. I don’t doubt that Dallas would willingly pay him the kind of money we’re talking about. Jerry Jones has watched his team flounder the last couple years under Jason Garrett and by now he knows he needs to make a big splashy coaching hire. No hire would be splashier than Payton. Just the fact that Jerry would be out there throwing insane figures around would make life more difficult for a lower-revenue franchise like the Vikes. Could they even hope to compete in a bidding war with Jerry?
Well, Zygi Wilf isn’t exactly poor himself. And look at this thing from Zygi’s perspective for a minute. He just secured this great deal for a new stadium. Yet fan enthusiasm isn’t exactly high right now. With the team struggling offensively, the fans seem to be tuning out. What might energize the fanbase as we head into the new stadium era? There’s no big-name free agent quarterback you could bring in. But what about if you hired Payton? The fans know his offensive track record. They know how exciting his teams are. And they know he has a Super Bowl ring.
Hiring Sean Payton would immediately bring the fanbase back in. The excitement around the Vikings during their lame duck years in the Metrodome and eventually TCF Bank Stadium would be ratcheted up. Also, look at it in terms of Christian Ponder’s development. He seems to be stagnating under Bill Musgrave. But Payton is widely regarded as a QB guru. People give him lots of credit for Drew Brees becoming a Hall of Famer. What could Payton do with Ponder? Maybe Payton wouldn’t even want Ponder. Maybe he would rather draft a new QB and develop him. Either way, the QB situation would immediately look brighter with Payton running the show.
With Payton as coach, instead of probably limping through the next two years as a .500-or-worse team, the Vikings might have a shot to roll into their new stadium as legit contenders. The prospect of generating that much excitement and extra revenue might, in Zygi Wilf’s mind, justify paying Payton the huge bucks.
But now let’s look at things from Payton’s side. Why would he choose the Vikings over the Cowboys? We know he has ties to the Cowboys, having worked there under Bill Parcells. Ever since he rose to prominence with the Saints, Cowboys fans and probably their owner have been yearning to wrest Payton away from New Orleans and give him the keys to the kingdom. Now would be their chance. Why would Payton turn down the huge Dallas money and even more importantly the immense amount of love and adulation that would be heaped upon him there?
To be honest, I can’t see any good reason for Payton to choose Minnesota over Dallas other than money. Only thing I could see is, maybe he doesn’t want to deal with Jerry Jones’ endless meddling. Maybe he’d prefer to work for an owner like Zygi Wilf who keeps his hands off. But Jerry’s money would probably be too overwhelming. And the ego-stroke involved with being head coach of Dallas. There is arguably no more prestigious head coaching position in all of football than the Cowboys job. Payton seems like the kind of guy who wouldn’t be able to turn that down. He just likes the spotlight too much.
So it’s pretty far-fetched any way you slice it. And even if the Vikings did have a shot at Payton, would he necessarily be embraced by all the fans? There’s still the Bountygate thing. Even though there’s no evidence that Payton himself offered bounties, he is suspended right now for a reason. The stain of that is all over him. Lots of fans probably would be averse to hiring Payton even with his track record. From a PR perspective, hiring Payton could slightly backfire on the Vikings.
But I don’t think that PR backlash would last long. As soon as fans saw the Payton offense on the field, they’d forget about Bountygate. It didn’t take Viking fans long to forget about all the times Brett Favre tormented them either. Winning brings on feelings of forgiveness.
My own personal feeling on this is, if Payton does become a free agent at the end of the season, Vikings management would be remiss if they did not at least put out feelers. Of course if the Vikes rebound from their recent struggles and finish with a decent record it would be very hard to justify firing Leslie Frazier even to hire a guy like Payton. So there’s a new reason for the “lose on purpose” bozos to crank up their engines again. Lose out and hire Sean Payton. I’m sure they can come up with a clever Twitter hashtag.
Bottom line? It’s all speculation. Like I said before, it’s not even a guaranteed thing that Payton will be a free agent. But fans will talk about Payton and some will call for Frazier to be dumped at the end of the year no matter what. That’s more a reflection on people’s perception of Frazier and the current regime than anything. Even with the team at 5-3, fan discontent is running high. Part of it is Frazier’s perceived ineptitude, and part of it is the general lack of offensive punch.
Fact it, being a sound team that runs it well and plays defense just doesn’t jack up the modern fanbase. People want offense. They want passing. They want big plays. And that at the end of the day is why Payton has so much potential value. He knows how to design and run a high-powered 21st Century NFL offense. His name is practically synonymous with that kind of offense at this point. And that is why the prospect of hiring him will seem attractive to many people. And that is also why Zygi Wilf might be legitimately intrigued by him, even with the huge price tag.
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