The torches and pitchforks came out after the Dallas Cowboys failed to win the Wild Card game and crashed out of the playoffs. Blame was widely spread, but one of the most frequent targets was head coach Mike McCarthy. The team just did not look ready for the game, and McCarthy himself described the players as “nervous” prior to the start. Given that preparation and setting the tone is definitely under the purview of the head coach, his statement just added fuel to the fire. There was disappointment from some when Jerry Jones announced McCarthy was secure for 2022 as they were hoping for a replacement. One of the most discussed names was Sean Payton. And with this looking more and more like a make-or-break season for McCarthy, Payton’s name is at the top of many lists for Dallas to pursue if things flop once again.
There has been a long flirtation between Jones and Payton, despite the latter’s job as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. There was a report that the Cowboys were working on a trade for Payton’s services 2019, but nothing was consummated. Even though Payton has just retired from the Saints, New Orleans still retains rights to him through 2026. A trade would still be required, but that would not seem much of an obstacle for the Jones family. If McCarthy does not prove himself and gets replaced, it is reasonable to think Payton will be at the top of the list.
RJ Ochoa and Bobby Belt discussed this idea among other questions that they felt nobody is currently asking about the Cowboys on the latest episode of The 75O on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure you subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
However, it takes two to tango, to coin a phrase that has already been coined. Those who are eager to see Payton replace McCarthy assume he is a willing dance partner. That may not be as certain as they think.
One big reason Payton may not want to jump back into a head coaching job in Dallas, or anywhere else, is that there is a widely held belief he is going to enter broadcasting this season. Most expect him to do very well. Further, he should command a high salary. Frequently he is compared to former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who started at the top as part of CBS’ lead broadcast team, and has had great success. He has already negotiated a second deal, worth a reported $7.5 million a year. That is reportedly what a mid-range salary is for an NFL head coach. While Payton may not meet that figure as a newbie, he will probably be able to demand something near that. He would not be hurting financially.
Then there are the side benefits. Most significant is probably the workload. It is far, far less for a broadcaster, who gets months off rather than the year-round grind of a head coach. The hours are much less demanding as well. If Payton wants to have more time for family and doing things outside football, like Romo’s golfing, that may be enough to dissuade him from going back to the sidelines. Additionally, he would no longer have to face the media after a losing effort by his team. While criticisms still come, especially from fan bases who always think the announcers are disrespecting their team, those are more in the realm of annoying noise than the sometimes pointed exchanges with reporters looking for headlines.
Romo certainly seems to love his new life. It is not at all unreasonable to think Payton would as well.
Another aspect of this is the belief that Payton wants the Cowboys job. While his home in the Dallas area is cited as evidence of that, Dallas is full of former NFL players and coaches who simply find it a great place to live. It offers all the advantages of a large, diverse, and cosmopolitan city at a lower cost of living than on the coasts. Don’t put too much weight on where he currently resides.
What may be more important is the fit of the job. The Cowboys remain a glamour job, perhaps the biggest of all. That is despite the long drought of playoff success. But it comes with the unique aspect of the involvement of Jerry and Stephen Jones in the day-to-day operations of the team. Jerry retains the GM title, while Stephen handles the financials. They are particularly controlling about roster decisions, as the recent stir over the latter’s comments about DeMarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper, cast in the light of how the salary cap dictates contract decisions, clearly illustrates. Payton had much more control over his roster in New Orleans. Something would have to give. There is no reason to expect the Jones family to cede much. The compromising would have to fall on Payton. If he should find getting back into coaching irresistible, he may well seek a place where he could operate more as he is accustomed.
Furthermore, the media in Dallas is among the most energetically aggressive in the league. Every stumble, no matter how slight, is dissected and analyzed to death. That extends to the national level, where any mention of the Cowboys, no matter how peripheral or superficial, is seen as a surefire way to generate viewers and readers. The seat in Dallas is never cool for long, at least when there is a chance to manufacture controversy.
The romance with Payton as head coach of the Cowboys may be entirely a one-sided affair. Holding the boom box above your head playing sappy love songs is not going to do much, especially if he finds the next chapter of his life without coaching gratifying. Just like our perennial disappointment over the failure of the team to go after top-shelf free agents, we may well be fated to find our desire for Payton on the Dallas sideline unrequited.