Sean Payton Next Team NFL

Why The Cardinals Are Best Fit For Payton

Sean Payton is one of the best NFL coaches of his era. In Payton’s 15 seasons in New Orleans, the Saints won 63 percent of their games, clinched seven division titles and earned the only Super Bowl in franchise history.

After a year off from the league, Payton is looking for a new gig. He’s still technically under contract in New Orleans, but all signs point to another team trading for and hiring Payton to become their new coach.

So, what’s the best destination for Payton and where can he go to best use his talents?

What Is Sean Payton Good At?

To find Payton’s best fit, it’s important to know what he brings to the table. During his time with the Saints, he succeeded mainly on the back of two elements: aggressive game-calling and elite passing.

Payton was at the forefront of the now pervasive coaching style that utilizes calculated risks: going for it on fourth down, scheming up creative third-and-short plays, onside kicking and going for two-point conversions. During his 15 years with the Saints, his third-down conversion rate of 43.2 percent was the best in the league. He helped set a culture in New Orleans that embraced those risks and that aggressiveness.

Just three years into Payton’s head coaching career, BR’s Will Osgood wrote a feature on why he was a “great coach,” identifying some of his strengths quite aptly:

“The guy is some weird kind of blend between new school and old school. And he makes it work fantastically.”

But more than that established culture and those risks, Payton’s passing offenses were some of the best the NFL has seen. It helped to have Drew Brees at QB, but Payton’s passing attacks posted the second-most points in the NFL during his New Orleans tenure and averaged the most points per game.

What Are Payton’s Weaknesses?

Besides having Kevin James play him in a movie and PowerPoint presentations urging players to hurt people, Payton’s biggest weaknesses were mostly products of his aggressive style.

Two glaring drawbacks were the inability to establish a consistent run game and defensive weakness. During his 15 seasons in New Orleans, Payton’s Saints averaged 111.3 ground yards per game, which ranked 16th in the NFL over that time. On defense, the Saints were pretty rough during his tenure, too, allowing 23.1 points per game (28th in the NFL). But it makes sense that the pass-heavy, risk-taking coach would be averse to the run and not elevate a defense that much.

Those weaknesses certainly won’t discount him from getting a good NFL job this offseason, but they’re important to understand when finding his best fit.

Ranking Payton’s Top NFL Coaching Fits

Given his strengths, reputation and skill set, there are some franchises that would be better for Payton than others. Here are my personal picks for his best fits:

3. Houston Texans

The current Texans draw some pretty obvious parallels to the Saints when Payton first took over back in 2006. Those Saints had just won three games the previous year, but had some valuable draft assets and desperately needed a culture shift.

In his first draft, Payton built around Drew Brees by selecting Reggie Bush in the first round and two Pro Bowlers in the middle rounds, and even got some value in the seventh in WR Marques Colston. Payton took New Orleans from three wins to the NFC championship game during his first year as coach, and the Texans would have similar potential under a leader like Payton in 2024.

It certainly seems like Payton sees the fit in Houston, too:

“They’ve got really good draft capital,” he told Colin Cowherd earlier this week. “Really good draft capital … I think there’s growth potential immediately there.”

2. Los Angeles Chargers

It seems like the Chargers might be sticking with coach Brandon Staley even after his playoff collapse. But if the job opens, Payton’s skill set would pair perfectly in LA and set the Chargers up as real Super Bowl contenders.

Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards seven times under Payton and there’s no reason to think Justin Herbert couldn’t do the same. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are already elite receiving options and RB Austin Ekeler is the exact type of RB Payton flourished with in NO (Alvin Kamara, Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles).

Because of Payton’s weaknesses on the defensive side, the Chargers are a particularly good fit. With Derwin James, JC Jackson and Joey Bosa locked in on the defensive side, the Chargers defense would be enticing enough for a great defensive coordinator to take over that side of the ball and leave Payton to focus on what he’s good at, scoring points.

1. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are coming off an unexpected down year, have an undersized QB with great arm talent and already have the core of a solid passing game in place. Sounds like Payton’s dream, right?

Sure, there are questions about the defense, especially with J.J. Watt retiring and Isaiah Simmons not blossoming into the elite defender many thought he could become. And the Cards also have clear cap issues (but Payton proved pretty elite at navigating those near the end in New Orleans).

But, this Cardinals team is built around Kyler Murray and the passing attack, just like the Saints were built around Brees. In 2021-22, the Cards averaged 245 yards per game through the air, but with underperformance and injuries they managed just 213 in 2022-23.

Instead of hiring a defensive-minded coach to balance out the team, Arizona needs to lean into its strengths. Bringing Payton in to mold Murray in the same way he helped unlock Brees could bring a title to the desert.

but Where Will Payton Actually End Up?

It’s one thing to discuss the best fits for the former Saints coach, but the odds disagree a bit on where Payton will actually end up:

Payton 2023 Coaching Destination Odds
TeamCurrent Odds
Denver Broncos+225
Arizona Cardinals+350
Los Angeles Chargers+450
Carolina Panthers+900
Houston Texans+1000
Indianapolis Colts+1600

Odds as of January 17

Sure, the Broncos probably want Payton, but they’re not his best fit.

Payton has had to manage through an aging QB like Russell Wilson before, and it wasn’t the smoothest transition. Brees played seven seasons after he turned 35 with the Saints, but he won double-digit games just twice during that time and never made it back to a Super Bowl late in his career.

Add in the fact that Payton has discussed valuing draft capital — something Denver doesn’t have much of — and the Broncos just don’t seem like a likely landing spot.