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Sometimes you don’t realize how valuable something is until it’s gone, or, in the New Orleans Saints’ case, suspended for an entire season. Sean Payton did not coach a game in 2012, as he was serving a year-long suspension for his role in the Saints’ locker room bounty scandal.
Without Payton, the Saints fell significantly short of expectations and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The offense, which has been controlled by Payton, performed well in his absence, averaging the second most yards and third most points per game. However the defense finished as the worst statistical defense in history, just months after the infamous bounty system was exposed.
Payton’s 2011 contract extension was never approved by the league, making him a “free agent” at the end of his suspension. However, in December 2012, Payton and the Saints reached a five-year agreement that would make Payton the highest paid coach in the NFL.
Payton’s new contract dethrones Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick from atop the league’s wealthiest coaches list. Payton will be making an estimated $8 million per year on his new contract, whereas Belichick brings in $7.5 million annually.
Some may look at this and question if Payton is actually worth such a salary, and rightfully so. He has been coaching for a fraction of the time Belichick has and his resume is not as impressive. Valid, however, Payton is still very accomplished. Before going any further, let’s consider a blind comparison of the two coaches:
Both post fairly comparable and very successful numbers, but which is which? Coach A is Payton and Coach B is Belichick.
It’s tough to compare the two because the sample size for Payton is significantly smaller than Belichick’s, but wins and losses and postseason success are essentially the only measuring sticks that matter for head coaches. And Payton has achieved quite a bit in his six years at the helm. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 and have won the NFC South Division three times.
It is somewhat humorous how similar Payton and Belichick are though. Other than winning percentages, both have coached under Bill Parcells and won Super Bowls with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Plus, they have had to deal with organizational scandals cleverly tagged with “-Gate” by the media.
It must be said that the argument is not being made that Sean Payton is a better coach than Bill Belichick, far from it. Rather, Payton’s contract can be justified based on what he means to the Saints and New Orleans as a whole. He took the reins of a beloved but historically dismal franchise and reached the pinnacle of professional football. Now, following the bounty program and his suspension, Payton has the chance to rebuild and do so again.
The whole situation may be a nonissue for Patriots fans, but there are those who may grumble about the most decorated coach of this generation not earning the largest paycheck. As far as internal thoughts on the matter go, it’s safe to assume Bill and Co. aren’t too bothered. Either that or the Dark Lord will simply use this as motivation come Week 6 when the Saints march into Foxboro.