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Could Sean Payton be in play for Dolphins in 2023?

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The average career for a Miami Dolphins head coach is 84.3 games (not including interim head coaches). The average career for a Miami Dolphins head coach not named Don Shula is 50.1 games. This offseason, the Dolphins replaced Brian Flores after three years, hiring Mike McDaniel to take over the helm of the franchise. While the hope is McDaniel is much closer to Shula’s 392 games as the team’s head coach, it sounds like the Dolphins could be in play for Sean Payton in 2023 should McDaniel’s tenure match the 16-game employment of Cam Cameron in South Florida.

There have been multiple reports that Payton was on Miami’s radar this year, but the coach, who walked away from the New Orleans Saints this offseason, wanted to take a year off before returning to the sidelines. Pro Football Talk has indicated the Dolphins made a five-year, $100 million offer to Payton, but a report on Wednesday from the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson seems to indicate that, while the possibility of Payton joining the Dolphins was discussed in-house, no offer was made to Payton for fear of tampering charges after the Saints denied Miami’s request to speak to the coach.

Barry writes, “According to a source close to Payton, he was flattered by Miami’s interest in him to become their coach this season but also preferred to take a break from coaching in 2022.”

Miami hired McDaniel, signing him to a four-year contract. The team typically has given coaches at least three years to find themselves and get the franchise moving in the right direction. Since Shula retired, Jimmy Johnson served as the team’s head coach for four years (64 games), Dave Wannstedt made it into his fifth season (73 games), Nick Saban coached two years (32 games), Cameron one season (16 games), Tony Sparano into his fourth season (61 games), Joe Philbin started his fourth season (52 games), Adam Gase coached three seasons (48 games), and Brian Flores completed three years (49 games). It does not seem likely the Dolphins would again look to make a coaching change after just one season.

Yet, there appears to be the possibility that Payton could be in play for the Dolphins in 2023. Without having coached a game yet, McDaniel could already be facing some pressure. According to Jackson’s report, Payton’s desired next coaching location would feature “warm weather, a roster good enough to compete and most importantly, control over personnel decisions” while “a good quarterback would be helpful but that isn’t the No. 1 or No. 2 factor.”

The Dolphins head into the season with the expectations that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will take a large step forward as he enters his third NFL season, but that is an expectation and not yet a proven fact. Payton not being tied to a team with an established quarterback could keep the Dolphins in the running no matter how Tagovailoa performs in the 2022 season.

Jackson also indicates Payton would be looking for a market where he could golf, though that is not a top-tier need for the coach.

A warm-weather location with a roster that appears set to compete with golf courses and a franchise willing to give him personnel decision-making powers. Seems like a lot of those boxes are checked by the Dolphins and Miami.

Jackson writes, Miami “will have at least a chance next spring if they make a coaching change and again pursue Payton, that close associate said. The source - emphasizing that Payton would never lobby for a filled job - said Miami is among the teams that would interest him, and he knows that first-hand.”

Jackson’s source also indicated the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers could be a consideration for Payton should they make a coaching change this offseason.

Payton’s contract with the Saints is still valid, so if a team were to hire him as their head coach, New Orleans would still need to allow permission for the team and coach to speak and then would likely have to send some sort of compensation to the Saints.

None of this is likely, given McDaniel was just hired and there is excitement about what he could bring to the Dolphins. Unless everything goes horribly wrong this year, the Dolphins likely will not be looking to move on from a coach just a year after hiring him. The cost of buying out McDaniel’s contract, the compensation that would be required to hire Payton, the coach of Payton’s contract, and the analysis and talking points created by the Dolphins making a change so quickly all seem prohibitive to this possibility.

Yet, the rumors are still there. It does appear, however slight, there is a possibility Sean Payton could be in play for the Dolphins in 2023.