The Dallas Cowboys are beginning a long offseason, and head coach Mike McCarthy’s end-of-the-year press conference on January 19 has quieted speculation about his job security for now. Prior to McCarthy’s most recent comments about his future, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi urged Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to consider making a run at Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Payton is under contract with the Saints through 2026, so the Cowboys would likely have to trade for the coach. Coach trades are rare, but there is precedent. Most notably, the New York Jets traded Bill Belichick to the New England Patriots in 2000, and the Oakland Raiders traded Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.
Lombardi called making a move for Payton the “best thing” Jones could do this offseason.
“I think it’s hard for Jerry, right?” Lombardi said during the January 17 episode of “The GM Shuffle” podcast. “Because if you bring Sean in, you gotta give up control. It was hard for him to do it with [Bill] Parcells, but he needed a stadium, right? Jerry needed a stadium. He needed to build that, and Parcells helped him build that. Parcells helped him get that thing.
“But Jerry’s 79 years old, right? At some point, you gotta say to yourself, ‘I want to win another one. I gotta win one.’ And I think that phone call to Sean Payton would be the best thing he could do. Whether he does it or not, that remains to be seen.”
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What Would the Cowboys Have to Trade to Land Payton?
In a December 3 story, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer discussed the trading of NFL coaches and described how, in 2014, the Cleveland Browns were close to acquiring San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh for a pair of third-round picks. Harbaugh opted to stay in San Francisco.
“The piece that blew up the Harbaugh trade is an important one,” Breer wrote. “This isn’t like trading a player. The contract doesn’t travel with the coach like it does with a player. And the coach has the power to put an end to any discussions by simply deciding he doesn’t want to go.”
In Breer’s story, ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum, a former New York Jets general manager, described a potential coach trade as “very complicated” but not impossible.
“They’re very hard to do,” he said in Breer’s piece. “There’s a lot of moving parts. It’s rare for a reason — you have to have an agreement between the teams, between the coach and his new team, and a comfort level from ownership in letting a head coach walk to another place. It’s very complicated.”
Breer detailed notable NFL coaching swaps and their compensation packages:
“In 1997, the Jets traded their ‘99 first-round pick, ‘98 second-round pick, and ‘97 third- and fourth-round picks to the Patriots for Bill Parcells (the league made the Jets throw in a $300,000 donation to Patriots charities too, just to show that everyone got along in the end),” Breer wrote. “Three years later, the Jets traded Bill Belichick, and fifth- and seventh-round picks to New England for first-, and fourth and seventh-round picks.
“Two years after that, in 2002, the Buccaneers traded first-round and second-round picks in both ‘02 and ‘03 to the Raiders for Jon Gruden. And four years after that, the Chiefs threw the Jets a fourth-round pick to expedite Kansas City’s hire of Herm Edwards, with New York and Edwards’s conducting a sort of mutual parting, and Edwards’s having a long-standing relationship with Chiefs GM Carl Peterson.”
Jones Admires Payton
Over the years, Jones has made no secret about his affinity for Payton, who was the Cowboys’ assistant head coach and quarterback coach from 2003 to 2005.
Jones would need to not only fire McCarthy but also sign Payton to a new contract. According to Sports Illustrated, Payton, who just finished his 15th season as the Saints’ head coach, makes $9.8 million a year and is the third highest-paid coach in the NFL, behind Belichick ($12.5 million) and Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll ($11 million).