FRISCO - Here at Sports Illustrated, yours truly reported in December 2019 that the Dallas Cowboys used “back channels” to reach out to Sean Payton about the New Orleans Saints head coach's potential return to Dallas. That, of course, was as Jason Garrett was about to be pushed out the door.
Now, with an NFL Network reports that suggests the long-time Saints coach is taking some time to consider quitting the team - maybe for a job in TV - there is understandably new speculation that Payton's next step might actually be to at least take Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' phone call.
In fact, even Saints owner Gayle Benson is up in the air on this.
"We don't know. You know, who knows?" Benson said on Monday. "We'll find out soon enough, I guess. I don't think any of us know. But he'll let us know soon enough."
Some facts: Dallas' Jones is newly frustrated with the team's 2021 finish under coach Mike McCarthy. ... and is leaving him danging while announcing only that there are "a lot of things to think about with these coaches.'' Jones is also historically enamored with Payton, and Payton - the former Cowboys staffer - is known to feel the same way about the Jones family, the Cowboys and the Dallas area.
But fire McCarthy? Didn't he just arrive here through that door? Wasn't he considered by Jerry to be "my guy'' on the Sunday before kickoff of the Round 1 playoff game against the Niners? Did one loss change all of that?
We've suggested often in this space that some day, some way, Payton will end up working for the Cowboys. The coach is signed on with the Saints through 2026, so the speculation that he "has one year left on his contract'' is wrong.
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But he could in theory make an effort to erase some of that contractual commitment by quitting.
This suggestion that Jones might leave McCarthy dangling until Payton's situation in New Orleans - where he is an institution - is in play if only because of how upset Jones is at the playoff loss. But all of this also suggests that Payton would trick his way out of New Orleans, that the Cowboys would then trade for him (maybe?), and that the Cowboys would then fire McCarthy, even though COO Stephen Jones has announced that McCarthy is "absolutely'' secure.
How long does this go on? Maybe until Payton decides. Maybe until Jerry decides. And in the end? Only a public declaration of support for McCarthy from Jones will extinguish the rumors.
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