BOCA RATON, Fla. — Sean Payton reached down to touch his briefcase each time the document was mentioned.
It was there, of course, and tucked inside was the five-year extension he agreed upon to remain the head coach of the Saints. Once he puts pen to paper, he will be under contract to remain in New Orleans through the 2020 season.
“I’m planning on it. I think soon,” Payton said when asked when he is going to sign it. “I just got it. I don’t walk around and carry it. When you brought it up, I started thinking, ‘Did I bring that with me or did I leave it in the hotel somewhere?’ I started getting nervous.”
So why is it here?
“I don’t know why it’s in this briefcase and why it’s here,” Payton said.
Do you want to sign it now?
“No, I’m not going to sign it here,” Payton said, laughing. “I’ll look like the college recruit. Put my hat on.”
Payton said he had dinner with owner Tom Benson on Tuesday night to discuss the deal. Over the last few months, he worked with general manager Mickey Loomis and team president Dennis Lauscha to hammer out the details.
From the outside, it was hard to imagine that this day would come. When all the rumors started swirling back in September that Payton was going to leave town for somewhere like Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco or New York, it appeared certain he would be coaching against, and not for, the Saints in 2016.
Then came the silence and the assumed news conference that never took place the day after the season ended. After a few days of waiting for some news, which felt like weeks, Payton finally sat a table at the team’s practice facility in Metairie and announced his intentions to stay on.
But it was much more than that. The coach talked about his affinity for the city and how he’s grown to find its flaws charming. It was a love letter to the city.
So his extension wasn’t a surprise. He talked about working out a new deal that day, so this is more of a formality than breaking news. He’s the coach of this franchise, and it’s going to stay that way. This much was already known, which is why Payton experienced the emotions of recommitting to the team back when he sat at that table.
“Honestly, we’re in the middle of free agency and working on a few of these defensive players, and at some point, Mickey said, ‘Hey, I have to get this to you,’ ” Payton said. “I wasn’t like waiting every day, where’s the paperwork? There’s a protocol with the attorneys. I think, for us, it was a formality after that point that last week at the end of the season.”
Before recommitting to the city, one of the things Payton thought about was his tenure and if his message had grown stale here. One of the reasons many people thought he was going to leave was because Bill Parcells, whom Payton coached under as an assistant and still often speaks with, used to bounce around from job to job to stay fresh.
After the season, Payton realized that even though he’s been here since 2006, many of the faces on his roster have changed over the years. Even though he might have said something countless times, a large portion of the locker room is hearing it for the first time. That’s different from how things were when Parcells was coaching.
“There’s a lot more moving parts today than there used to be,” Payton said. “So, if you want to coach another team, just keep your job for four years, five years in our league and you’re going to be coaching another team right where you’re at.”
The goal now, of course, is to turn around the fortunes of the franchise. Sitting on consecutive 7-9 finishes leaves a sour taste in Payton’s mouth. He was reminded of the disappointment when he walked into his first session at the NFL’s annual meeting this week and was forced to watch video reviewing the season.
The disappointments played out all over again. It didn’t please him. He’s experienced some extreme highs in New Orleans, and he takes time to savor those moments, but all that matters is what happened last season. And last season wasn’t good enough.
“We’ve had years where we’ve taken it for granted,” Payton said. “ ’06 was a special year; it was unique. ’09, ’10, ’11, ’13. And yet you find yourself spending more time on trying to shape ’15 or ’14, more time on why we weren’t good enough. We got to be better at the end of games. That’s for sure.”
Payton hopes the pieces are there to do that this season. He likes the players the Saints have added on defense and is excited about the talent that should be available in the first round of the draft. Only time will tell.
He’s also hopeful New Orleans can sign Drew Brees to an extension. Talks are ongoing and, if possible, he’d like to continue coaching the quarterback for years to come.
“I think that’s important. There are none of these storybook endings, but he’s playing at a high level,” Payton said. “I think our job as teachers — you get excited about that. … But I think that consistency has been a very important thing for us. It’s helped us tremendously offensively, I know.”
Payton has been the other key to that offensive production. One end of the equation has been locked up. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but this should, at least, keep the rumors about him splitting town at bay for at least a few years.