Time for Sean Payton and New Orleans to Part Ways

Time for Sean Payton and New Orleans to Part Ways
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Nothing about the New Orleans Saints’ Monday night stinker was especially surprising  to those who understand what the team has been reduced to under longtime head coach Sean Payton.

The Saints’ offense is still potent but no longer talented enough to carry the team, as veteran QB Drew Brees gracefully ages behind a papier-mache offensive line. Despite boasting a Hall of Fame quarterback who would start on nearly every other team in the league, along with a bevy of talented skill position players to work with, the Saints simply aren’t good enough on that side of the ball to mask a defense that made journeyman quarterback Sam Bradford look like Aaron Rodgers.

It doesn’t matter how many solid running backs you throw into the cocktail. Payton seems to have lost the play-calling flair that once enabled him to lord over the rest of the league on offense from 2009 to 2013.

Which brings us to where we are now, dissecting yet another Saints prime-time dud, the fifth time they’ve lost on Monday Night Football in their past six tries. The home field advantage once enjoyed by a raucous Superdome has completely evaporated, and the team has gone 10-14 in road games since Payton's last playoff appearance. In his last 80 games, Payton has accumulated a 39-41 record. Mike Smith notched a 46-34 overall regular season record in his final five years with the Atlanta Falcons before being fired.

This might be tough for some of you to hear, so make sure you're sitting down (or at least three beers deep).

It's time for Sean Payton to go. 

Now, before you pour Tony Chachere’s in my eyeballs Saints fans, look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your own eyes and ask yourselves: Is Sean Payton ever going to bring another Super Bowl to the Big Easy?

We both already know the answer. And if he isn't, then what’s the point of keeping him around? Rewarding mediocrity is something you should reserve for the Pelicans.

The Saints haven’t had a winning record now in a staggering 1,354 days. That is an incredible statistic for a head coach who was signed to a five-year extension for more than $45 million just last year. New Orleans has now gone 7-9 four times in the past five seasons with Payton at the helm, and is staring down the barrel of another losing record before the faithful Who Dat Nation has even had the chance to march from their cars to the Superdome for the home opener.

A home opener, mind you, against a pissed off Bill Belichick-led Patriots team coming off its own prime-time thumping just last week.

Not ideal!

By now, Saints fans and casual NFL observers alike have resigned themselves to understanding how bad the team’s defense will be. Payton’s squads are routinely relegated to the bottom of nearly every defensive statistic, and there is no reason to believe that that will change until the head coach does as well. You don’t need to see the jaw-dropping statistics plastered across this page to know that. Just watch the tape of Sam Bradford dropping dimes.

Sean Payton was a magnificent hire at the time, and he has undoubtedly developed into the best coach in team history. But paying for sentimentality and nostalgia is always a mistake. Payton has proved that he no longer has the offensive acumen to overcome his revulsion of defense, and the Saints are stuck in purgatory because of it.

I’ll miss the Blue Steel sideline looks he gives on a regular basis. We’ll forever remember the ballsiest call in football, when Payton started the second half of a Super Bowl he was losing with an onside kick that forever changed the franchise. The Sean Payton era in New Orleans culminated in a revitalized region snagging a Super Bowl in a way that captivated the entire Gulf Coast. Nobody can take those memories away from you. Enjoy the good ol’ days, Saints fans, and look back at Payton’s time in NOLA with fondness.

But it’s time to move on.

If Drew Brees follows suit and chases a massive payday somewhere else after this season, so be it. Overpaying an aging legend for nostalgia’s sake will only further prevent the inevitable rebuild that’s coming. There’s a reason Jimmy Garoppolo still stands on the sideline of Gillette Stadium in New England. As soon as Tom Brady begins to slip, Belichick is moving on like a man in a country song.

Sean Payton is no longer equipped to win big games with the Saints. He’s not even equipped to make the playoffs, something he hasn’t done since the 2013 season. That was 34 Browns quarterbacks ago! Right now, Payton is simply a $45 million drain on the franchise who has flatlined as a head coach.

His defense, which finds new ways to break all the wrong NFL records, looks just as bad as its historically poor 2016 offering. The offense, as it has done so many times before, is stuck playing catch-up despite its own unique set of struggles, starting with Payton’s play-calling.

Nothing has changed. What tangible moves have general manager Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton made to make you think it ever will? We’ll be waiting for that answer longer than Falcons fans will wait on a Super Bowl ring.

A change of scenery for Payton might re-energize another team and inject some life into his coaching that could pay dividends for a different franchise. But it won’t be in New Orleans.

After Monday night’s embarrassment, Payton began his press conference looking overwhelmed and shell-shocked.

“I don’t know where to begin,” he muttered. I think we all do, coach.

Laissez les bons temps tomber.

Let the good times go.

Cory Gunkel is an editor of RealClearSports. Find him on Twitter @CoryGunkel or email him at cgunkel@realclearsports.com.

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