Sean Payton

In the days leading up to the first playoff games, the most interesting thing in the NFL is the potential coaching carousel going on, with Sean Payton as the grand prize right now. It’s not quite clear what his future will be and if it has anything to do with the New Orleans Saints. If it doesn’t, the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers are the first in line to make a trade for him.

Payton is signed through the 2017 season, but the two 7-9 seasons might have given Payton enough from New Orleans, where he has won a Super Bowl in 2009, has been coaching since 2006 with an 87-57 record that includes five playoff appearances and going 6-4 in the postseason. He’s been there along with Drew Brees, who feels confident Payton is going to stay. It’s up to Mickey Loomis apparently, and what he’ll ask in return, if he’ll even make Payton available.

There are a lot of ifs in this story, but with at least six teams looking for new head coaches (not everyone is done deciding the future of their head coach just yet, not to mention things happening in the playoffs changing things), Payton is at the center of the potential chain reaction. Teams are waiting to see where he goes in order to decide what to do next, and who to try and sign. After Payton makes his decision, things will move more quickly.

When Jon Gruden was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, the last time there was a head coach trade in the NFL, the Raiders landed two first-round picks, two second-rounders and $8 million in compensation. The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl against the Raiders following that, but haven’t done much since, especially since Gruden has left. Is this going to be the price tag on Payton? Or will the Saints be asking for a lot less, maybe also trying to get on a new course following two disappointing seasons and the whole bountygate scandal still weighing on their shoulders in some way.

Both the Eagles (firing Chip Kelly) and the 49ers (firing Jim Tomsula) are very interested, and one rumor floating around suggests Payton is very interested in San Francisco, maybe because he’s originally from California. He worked for the Eagles in 1997-1998 as a quarterbacks coach before moving on to the Giants and Dallas Cowboys. The Giants are also in the hunt, possibly offering the best situation: A great owner to work with, the best quarterback of the three and known coaching stability. The Eagles have talent. The 49ers seem like a team to stay away from, just like the Cleveland Browns.

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