Why did Saints decline the chance to get compensation for Sean Payton from the Dolphins?
The news, as broken on Monday’s PFT Live, that the Dolphins had planned to pursue Sean Payton to coach the team and Tom Brady to play quarterback, entails many layers and levels. Let’s focus, for now, on the wrinkle that the Dolphins sought permission from the Saints to speak to Payton, and that the Saints declined.
First, the Dolphins likely didn’t make that request as a shot in the dark, without any knowledge as to whether Payton would have been interested in taking the job. These things have a way of working out unofficially and behind the scenes, as they did when Payton nearly left the Saints to become coach of the Cowboys in 2019, the details of which are set forth in Playmakers. Three years ago, the unrelated-but-related effort by Pelicans forward Anthony Davis to leave town killed the Payton-to-Dallas deal. This year, even after Payton left the Saints, something kept New Orleans from letting the process play out.
Second, perhaps the compensation the Dolphins were willing to provide to the Saints wasn’t sufficient. Simms mentioned on Monday’s show that he’s heard the conversations had progressed to the point at which the terms of a de facto trade had been discussed. Did the Saints want more than Miami was willing to give?
There’s widespread expectation that the Cowboys will eventually try to hire Payton. Maybe the Saints think they’ll get as much or more from Jerry Jones later than they were going to get from Stephen Ross now.
Third, it’s impossible to rule out a scenario in which the Saints said “no” because someone else told them to. One of the rumors making the rounds (we’ve yet to substantiate it to the point that it can be reported as factual) is that 345 Park Avenue put the kibosh on the plan to pursue both Payton and Brady after former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed his lawsuit. Some view that possibility skeptically, given that other teams would expect the league to do more than pull the plug on an effort to violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the Rooney Rule by lining Payton up in advance and to violate the spirt (and the letter) of the tampering policy by communicating with Payton and/or Brady while both were under contract with other teams. Other teams would want the Dolphins to be sanctioned by the league for these violations.
From the league’s perspective, punishing the Dolphins or trying to discreetly line up a Payton-Brady package deal actually could make things worse. At a time when the Dolphins stand accused of racial bias in firing Flores, of deliberately tanking in 2019 to get the quarterback the team coveted in 2020, and of tampering with an unnamed quarterback (Brady) in early 2020, it would be risky, if not crazy, for the league to announce to the world that the Dolphins have recently been caught with one hand in the Rooney Rule cookie jar and the other in the tampering cookie jar.
So it would make sense for the league both to slam the door on the plan, and also to speak nothing of it.
Regardless of how or why it happened, the Saints had a chance to get something now for Payton, and the Saints chose not to take it. Maybe, in the coming days, more will surface as to why it didn’t happen.