When Sean Payton resigned as the New Orleans Saints head coach, he never closed the door on the possibility of returning to the NFL. He needed a break, and maybe he wasn't seeing the Saints as a competitor anymore. But, after some months away from football, Payton has already said he will probably be back at some point.
"If the right situation presented itself, I would definitely be interested," Payton said on the NewOrleans.Football podcast, in September. "And there's no utopia, if you will, when it comes to teams, but if I felt like it was the right situation, I would have an interest in that. That all being said, that could come in a year, that could come in two years."
So there's no assurances of when it will happen, but it probably will. If it is to occur in 2023, after just one season as a TV analyst, Payton might not have a lot of options, though.
Disclaimer: Sean Payton is still under contract with the Saints. Therefore, any team that wants to hire him has to compensate New Orleans with draft capital.
Los Angeles Chargers
The best-case scenario for Sean Payton is probably the Chargers, where he would have the possibility of working with quarterback Justin Herbert. We don't know yet if Brandon Staley will be fired, and the Chargers are now at 4-2, so it doesn't look that probable. However, the offense has been consistently underwhelming with coordinator Joe Lombardi. If the Chargers want to extract the most out of Herbert, maybe Sean Payton is the answer. Curiously, Payton started his coaching career as an offensive assistant at San Diego State University, in a time when the Chargers still played in San Diego too.
This is probably the highest chance of happening at this point. Kliff Kingsbury hasn't taken the most out of a win-now roster, and the offensive scheme frequently receives strong criticism. Moreover, Kingsbury is in his fourth season as the Cardinals head coach, so it wouldn't be a premature decision either. It's a scenario with a promising franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, and potentially with a vacant general manager job — Steve Keim could be on his way out, too, because he's already working with his third head coach, after Bruce Arians and Steve Wilks. In this case, Payton could pry Jeff Ireland away from New Orleans, for example, to work with an executive with whom he is familiar.
It's not probable that the Bengals will fire Zac Taylor one year after he led the team to a Super Bowl — and signed a contract extension. However, the Bengals have been a little uninspiring this season, while young stars Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase hasn't played as well as they did last season. They are certainly attractive pieces for a head coach willing to come back to the league.
It looked possible, but not that much anymore
Nathaniel Hackett has had a disastrous start in Denver, and the offense with Russell Wilson has been as underwhelming as it could possibly be. A one-and-done scenario is not off the table, and the chance of working with Russell Wilson could motivate Sean Payton. Except that it doesn't. According to Mike Florio, Payton doesn't want to tie his job to Wilson.
Two months ago, the entire NFL world would agree that the Cowboys were the most probable landing spot for Sean Payton, after two uninspiring seasons from Mike McCarthy. However, the Cowboys are 4-2 now, including four wins with backup quarterback Cooper Rush. The defense is probably the motor of the team, but McCarthy has done enough to keep his job for at least another year — at least so far.
Difficult, but who knows
Ron Rivera is in his third season with the Commanders, but the vision for the team isn't clear yet. There's no quarterback of the future, there's no timeline. Therefore, the Commanders would probably be interested in firing Rivera and hiring Payton. The problem here is that Payton might not want a situation like that. Washington is a poorly run franchise, under a lot of pressure, and without a franchise quarterback. As Payton has talked about the "right situation" presenting itself, that one probably isn't it.
The Panthers have already fired head coach Matt Rhule and would certainly love to talk to Payton. They don't have a franchise quarterback either, however, and the hardest part would be to make it work with the Saints. As New Orleans still has Payton's rights, it would be almost impossible — and very costly — to convince the Saints to trade their former head coach to a divisional rival.