Sean Payton spent most of the 2015 season under a siege of rumors he'd be leaving New Orleans. On Wednesday, the head coach reaffirmed his commitment to the Saints organization, agreeing to a five-year contract extension, the team announced:
New Orleans Saints Head Coach Payton has agreed to a five-year extension with the team, he told reporters at the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL annual meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.
Payton said he had the contract in his briefcase and had been discussing it with ownership, GM Mickey Loomis and Team President Dennis Lauscha since the end of the regular season.
ESPN's Ed Werder, citing a source, reported that "Payton has agreed to [a] five-year contract extension worth slightly more than [$45 million]. He was making [$8.5 million] per year."
Payton, 52, is 87-57 over nine seasons with the franchise. New Orleans has made the postseason five times under him, winning three division crowns and a Super Bowl in 2009. Payton has emerged as by far the most successful coach in Saints history, combining with quarterback Drew Brees to bring hope to a once-moribund franchise.
However, that hope has started to evaporate over the last two seasons. New Orleans has posted back-to-back 7-9 campaigns, seeing disconcerting regression on both sides of the ball. The Saints were second in total yards and led the NFL in passing last season, but they were just eighth in points per game.
Football Outsiders ranked the New Orleans offense seventh, the third time in the last four years it's ranked outside the top five. While placing among the 10 best offenses in football isn't usually worth criticism, it is when the defense devolves into a dumpster fire.
New Orleans allowed 45 touchdown passes during the 2015 regular season, setting an NFL record in the process. Only the New York Giants allowed more yards, and no team coughed up more points than the Saints.
That putridity led to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's dismissal, but the issues were just as much with personnel as they were with the scheme. The unit improved under Dennis Allen in the latter half of the season, helping the Saints win three of their last four games.
“He was real good coming in in a tough position," Payton told reporters in a news conference. "I thought he was organized, detailed. I think there are a few pieces that we have to help him with that can help our team and I think being charge of it for the course of the offseason (will help). There were a lot of good things he did.”
All the issues led to speculation Payton could look for greener pastures. According to Bleacher Report's Jason Cole, multiple teams were interested in trading for Payton, but a deal never came close to getting done. Payton announced he would return to the team Jan. 6, indicating he never planned on leaving.
"I understand the interest and skepticism, but this is where I plan on coaching," Payton told Evan Woodbery of the Times-Picayune. "I don't envision myself coaching anywhere else."
General manager Mickey Loomis backed up that claim by saying an extension was a "formality" with the head coach, per the New Orleans Advocate's Nick Underhill.
It's an interesting decision from New Orleans' perspective, as Payton was under contract through 2017. Given the downward trend of the last two years, it would have been understandable if the Saints wanted to wait things out. It may not have made Payton happy, but contracts are a two-way street. Unless he wanted to sit out the next two years, he was bound to the organization.
Instead, it appears the Saints have extended his deal as a show of good faith.