Payton, who has been away from the sidelines this season, is under contract with the Saints. This means any team that wants to interview Payton must first get permission from New Orleans, and then should they attempt to hire him, compensate the Saints. The Panthers are among a handful of teams interested in Payton, along with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans.
Payton said following Matt Rhule's firing in October that the Carolina job was attractive. A lot depends on the team's ability to acquire a franchise quarterback.
"Immediately, whoever's next at Carolina, is looking at that," Payton said. "Is it in the draft? Do we have a 'hold down the fort' guy in free agency until we find it in the draft, or is there a guy we like in free agency that we feel can be a good player?"
Payton's situation isn't totally unprecedented. The Oakland Raiders traded head coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 for a handful of draft picks. For a team like the Panthers, one of the Saints' biggest rivals, hiring Payton could come with a hefty price. Bill Parcells was traded to the New York Jets from the New England Patriots in the late 1990s. Ross Jackson of Locked On Saints recently discussed the matter with Carboni, and he believes the cost of acquiring Payton may be too much for Carolina.
"There is precedent around having a head coach traded within the division, but you should expect the team to pay the premium of premiums," Jackson said. "I would expect multiple picks in the first two days of the 2023 draft, and then multiple picks spanning the draft. That could be a day-one pick as well as some day-three selections, things like that in the second day."
NFL rules prohibit trading players in a coach exchange, but draft picks are allowed to be exchanged.
In addition to Payton, the Panthers have interviewed, or requested interviews, with numerous offensive coordinators for the opening. Those coaches include the Bills' Ken Dorsey, Detroit's Ben Johnson and Kellen Moore of the Dallas Cowboys. DeMeco Ryans, the defensive coordinator of the 49ers, is also on the team's list of requests. Head coaching candidates who are currently employed by NFL teams cannot interview in person until the conclusion of the Wild Card playoff round, which wraps up Monday night.
Payton's relationship with Saints brass, including general manager Mickey Loomis, remains strong. Jackson said everyone involved knows what's at stake for Payton's personal life and the business side for New Orleans.
"Ultimately, that will be the most important piece. Where does Sean Payton want to coach in 2023?" Jackson said. "If there are no suitors out there and Sean doesn't feel there's enough — whether it be ownership relationship, organization relationship, quarterback, whatever it might be — if he doesn't pick a team, he goes right back to Fox and he goes right back to being a studio analyst and no skin off his back. But for the New Orleans Saints, they'd certainly love to make sure they're at least ushering him back to the NFL in 2023 so they can recoup some of the draft capital that they're looking to have and need based upon what you saw from this team in 2022."
And then there's the question of fit. Payton would prefer a destination with an established quarterback, but that's tough because most teams with a franchise quarterback aren't in the market for a new coach. The Panthers are set to enter 2023 with no clear starter. Sam Darnold could return, and if they were to try and hire Payton, may have to give up the No. 9 overall pick. That's where Carolina's front office has a difficult juggling act, according to Jackson.
"It's going to be a bit of a trickier situation for Carolina out of most of the franchises out there," he said. "If you know, Payton has an idea of a free agent quarterback he'd like to go out there and get, there have been rumors out there of him and Tom Brady traveling as a package deal, maybe he has another sort of avenue of bringing in a quarterback or doesn't mind what 2023 looks like with the outlook of 2024 or 2025 right down the way."
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