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Report: Sean Payton Has 'High Affinity' for Cowboys, Chargers; Cardinals Also Linked

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: Former NFL coach Sean Payton speaks during an interview on day 3 of SiriusXM At Super Bowl LVI on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM )
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM

If Sean Payton is going to return to the NFL next season as a head coach after a one-year hiatus, he reportedly has a hierarchy of teams he'd consider.

According to CBS Sports' Josina Anderson, Payton has a "high affinity" for the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys, while the Arizona Cardinals are "a consideration too, if jobs become available."

As for the Denver Broncos, fresh off firing Nathanial Hackett on Monday, Anderson added, "I expect him to listen, though he historically prefers strong link [to the general manager]."

It seems clear that Payton is gearing for a return to coaching. Over the weekend, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the former New Orleans Saints' head honcho was reportedly "putting together an all-star staff that includes former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio as his potential defensive coordinator."

Unless an 11-4 Cowboys team that has already clinched a playoff berth and still holds the faintest of chances to win the NFC East is one-and-done in the postseason, it's hard to imagine Mike McCarthy losing his job as head coach.

Ditto for Brandon Staley in Los Angeles after his Chargers just missed out on the postseason last year at 9-8 and currently find themselves as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Miss the postseason for a second straight year, however, and Staley could find himself on the hot seat or out of a job altogether.

The Cardinals are another story entirely. Kliff Kingsbury has led the team to a 28-35-1 record in his four seasons, but coming into the 2022 campaign, his record had improved each season under his watch, culminating in last year's 11-6 playoff team.

But the Cardinals have been one of the NFL's biggest disappointments this year, going just 4-11. That has called into question Kingsbury's future in Arizona.

Other potential offseason vacancies include the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, who already fired Matt Rhule and Frank Reich, respectively, this season.

And then there's Denver. The Broncos didn't even give Hackett a full season after this year's disaster, and what may have once seemed like a selling point of the job—having Russell Wilson under a long-term contract—now looks like a potential reason to avoid the Broncos altogether.

JosinaAnderson @JosinaAnderson

I'm told some initial names being discussed for the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Broncos?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Broncos</a> head coach vacancy, per league source, include:<br><br>Dan Quinn<br>Darrell Bevell <br>Eric Bienemy<br>Sean Payton<br>Demeco Ryans<br>Shane Steichen

Chris Trapasso @ChrisTrapasso

Sean Payton's quick-passing, rhythmic / point guard at QB system = the opposite of a good fit for Russel Wilson, and I suspect Payton would want no part of that job anyway.

Troy Renck @TroyRenck

<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Broncos?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Broncos</a> one play could be throwing out record contract. But Payton wants to come back and win. So he would have to believe Wilson would rebound. Could have better options than Denver <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Denver7?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Denver7</a> <a href="https://t.co/oVwlMHVEeY">https://t.co/oVwlMHVEeY</a>

The nine-time Pro Bowler and one-time Super Bowl champion has been dreadful this season, throwing for 3,019 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing just 60.1 percent of his passes and taking a league-high 49 sacks. At 34, it's fair to wonder if his best football is behind him.

To add insult to injury, the Broncos will be without their 2023 first- and second-round picks as part of the trade they made to acquire him.

The Broncos have a potential out after the 2025 season as part of the five-year, $242.5 million contract extension they signed him to after the trade. But any incoming coach will realistically be tied to him for at least the next three seasons. For less established coaches looking to secure a first-time job, that assuredly won't be a dealbreaker.

But for Payton, who likely will have his pick of the job vacancies this offseason, it will absolutely factor into his decision one way or another.