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Insider says Cowboys had deal to trade for Sean Payton until Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans

This Cowboys story is something else.

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Recent chatter around the Dallas Cowboys is all about former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and that is because of one particular word - former. Tuesday brought news that Payton, who served on Bill Parcells’ staff in Dallas in the early 2000s, is walking away from the Saints. That is fueling a tale as old as time that he could wind up returning to the same Cowboys organization who saw him walk away in 2006 and go on to have all of the success that he did.

Until this year Payton flirting with leaving the Saints was sort of an annual offseason trope; however, it is very real as he is now officially done with that organization. It is possible that Payton is the coach of another NFL team (it could even be as soon as this coming season), but all reports are that he wants time away from football, not to mention the Saints would be entitled to compensation from whoever wanted to hire him.

The Cowboys were allegedly going to trade for Payton in early 2019... until Anthony Davis wanted out from the New Orleans Pelicans

Whether or not Payton becomes the Cowboys coach in the future is obviously something that has yet to come to fruition, but according to one NFL insider he very nearly became their head coach in the past. As in very nearly.

ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio has a book releasing soon called Playmakers, and in the aftermath of the Payton news, he decided to share an excerpt from it where he notes that the Cowboys were set to trade for Payton in early 2019 until Anthony Davis asked to be traded away from the New Orleans Pelicans. Yes. You read all of those words correctly.

It was a delicate situation, for various reasons. First, the Cowboys had a coach. Jones wouldn’t have fired Garrett unless he knew he could have gotten Payton. Second, league rules (specifically, the Rooney Rule) require a diverse and inclusive search. Third, Jones had to ultimately know that, after going through the motions of a search, he’d be able to get Payton.

So a deal was worked out, behind the scenes. The Saints would have allowed the Cowboys to hire Payton. The Cowboys would have compensated the Saints for the rights to Payton’s contract. And Payton would have signed a new contract with the Cowboys.

It was ready to go. It was happening. It was locked, and it was loaded. Then came Monday, January 28. On that day, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis announced he would not sign another contract with the team, and he requested a trade. (In July, the Pelicans traded him to the Lakers.)

Gayle Benson owns both the Pelicans and the Saints. Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis was, as of January 2019, the executive vice president of basketball operations with the Pelicans. Once Davis made clear his intention to leave New Orleans, Loomis told Payton that Loomis couldn’t be the common thread between a pair of such high-profile Louisiana departures.

That ended it, just like that. The Saints were no longer interested in essentially trading Payton to the Cowboys. In September, Payton signed a new contract. That deal has three years left on it.

Anthony Davis plays for the Los Angeles Lakers now which is a weird thing to be relevant to the Dallas Cowboys, but here we are. The fact that Gayle Benson didn’t want to dismiss two New Orleans legends is not exactly a farfetched idea, but how could this have possibly been this close to being done without ultimately happening?!

The Cowboys wound up keeping Jason Garrett around for one more season before hiring Mike McCarthy. For what it’s worth, McCarthy was available at the same time that this almost-trade allegedly happened during the early part of 2019 as he had been fired by the Green Bay Packers just a few months before. If having a Super Bowl winner was the most important thing to the Cowboys they could have hired McCarthy then, but McCarthy is not Sean Payton meaning he is not the one they saw leave their organization and have success elsewhere, kicking themselves for letting him go.

There is going to be a lot of smoke regarding Payton and the Cowboys for the coming months, probably even for the next year assuming Payton doesn’t coach anyone in the time being. He is likely going to do everything he can to throw kerosene on that himself as evidenced by his press conference announcing his departure from the Saints.

Payton recounted 2005 when he lost out on the Green Bay Packers job to Mike McCarthy during his press conference. Why would he bring that up? That specific story? Why would Mike McCarthy be relevant on today of all days?

We all likely know why. And it has nothing to do with the past. It’s all about the future.