The goal for the Chicago Bears and George McCaskey should be clear: pry Sean Payton away from the New Orleans Saints. The reasons why are fairly obvious.
He has been one of the most successful coaches in the league over the past 15 years, with an offense that perfectly fits Justin Fields. (Payton is known for “four verts”, which is designed to stretch the field. He is also known to want a mobile quarterback. There is no better fit for what he wants than Fields.) He wins in a variety of different ways, adjusting his offense to the talent he has, and managing to achieve similar results. He is a great offensive coach. The entire league knows that. The Bears know that. But how could the Bears get the Saints to agree?
The reasons for Payton to leave are there. The Saints don’t have a quarterback or really the means to acquire one. The Saints are projected to be nearly $62 million over the salary cap in 2022, and while GM Mickey Loomis has long been able to negotiate the cap, the likely outcome is going to include letting some good players go. (Keep in mind that that cap number doesn’t include a new contract for Terron Armstead who is set to be a free agent and could net an annual salary topping $20 million.)
If any team can navigate that cap mess, it’s the Saints, but the other factor is their age. Even if they bring Armstead back, he’s 30 years old. Cam Jordan is 32, Taysom Hill, 31; Ryan Ramczyk and Michael Thomas are both 28. They are a top-heavy team with a lot of veterans making big bucks. Their entire roster is going to need rebuilding in the near future and, at 58 years old, Payton may not want to endure that experience.
And they still have to find a way to get a quarterback! Perhaps they can swing a trade for Russ Wilson, Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers, but it would gut the draft picks they need to replace the veteran players already mentioned.
There is no easy fix for the Saints.
Further complicating matters is that they’re likely to lose Jeff Ireland, the person primarily responsible for finding the players in the draft that has kept them afloat.
The bottom line is the New Orleans window closed when the right arm of Drew Brees died. Now they’re trying to stay afloat but repeating the 2021 season is all that appealing to anyone involved in the organization.
Another matter is Payton’s contract. When he signed his current contract in 2019, it was reported as an extension. However, Spotrac appears to have it listed as a new deal, which would expire following the 2022 season. (Coach contracts are often a mystery, but Spotrac is as trustworthy of a source as exists.) An extension will be costly. Do the Saints really want to pay $15 million per season to finish with eight wins every year? One of their most impressive wins this season came when Payton was sidelined with COVID-19 and Dennis Allen filled in.
Perhaps this would be a good time for both parties to shake hands and move on?
That’s where the Bears come in.
While Chicago doesn’t have a first-round pick in 2022, they could give future picks to make a deal happen. Those picks could be used to help the Saints rebuild for their next coach – Allen, perhaps?
The Bears provide more than a homecoming opportunity for Payton. The offensive line is a center away from being really good. The need better playmakers outside but Payton has worked with subpar pass catchers for pretty much his entire career. The defense will need attention, and Payton has historically struggled finding the right coordinator for that side of the ball, but Kris Richard could be a viable option.
Payton also would be allowed to make a decision on who he wants as the team’s GM, and that might mean retaining his friend Ryan Pace. He might also promote from within – Josh Lucas? Mark Sadowski? Champ Kelly? It could be a seamless fit from a scouting standpoint.
If ever there was a time for Payton to leave, it’s now. If ever there was a perfect fit for him, it’s Chicago. And it should be George McCaskey’s primary focus.