The Tom Brady/Sean Payton Watch

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Divisional - Welcome to the Tom Brady retirement watch, also known as the Tom Brady free agency watch, Tom Brady Dolphins watch, Tom Brady Panthers watch, Tom Brady Jets watch, Tom Brady Saints watch, and Tom Brady "blatant effort to game the search engines, barely disguised as a clever intro" watch.

Or, for brevity's sake: the Tom Brady offseason clickbait watch.

We're done here, right? Brady creaked into the playoffs with an 8-9 team that would have gone about 6-11 if not for an unrepeatable amount of late-game one-score victories over feeble opponents. Brady threw just 25 touchdown passes, his lowest total since 2019. He averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt, his lowest total since 2002, twenty years ago. Brady can barely move in the pocket and looks ready to duck and cover when the pressure arrives. Do we really need a second encore?

Maybe we do: Brady finished third in DYAR in 2022.

Perhaps we should do some parsing. Passing DYAR numbers are down a bit this year across the league. Brady's 1,122 DYAR represent his third-lowest figure since 2014. Brady also led the NFL in attempts for a second straight year, which juices his value when compared to replacement level. In DVOA, which is less impacted by bulk numbers, Brady ranked … eighth. Still very good.

Few would rank Brady as the eighth-best quarterback in the NFL in 2022, just as few would rank Jared Goff fourth or Jacoby Brissett seventh. Brady's immobility and occasional fumbles give him negative rushing value in a league where everyone from Josh Allen to Jalen Hurts to Daniel Jones contributes significant DYAR with their legs. And we're just not that beholden to the statistics: our eyes tell us that Brady has slipped noticeably, especially against tougher defenses.

But how far should we drop Brady? Twelfth? Sixteenth? Is he above or below Goff right now? Maybe. What about Russell Wilson? Probably. A gimpy Lamar Jackson? How do we even make a comparison?

Walkthrough is almost certain that Brady will have his Matt Ryan 2022 year the moment he is transplanted from the Buccaneers, who surrounded him with top wide receiver talent and the best offensive line they could afford, to some team trying to feather his nest on the fly. Then again, Walkthrough has also been certain about Brady's imminent decline since 2014, so we can pound sand.

Brady ranked 30th among starters with 1.1 adjusted net yards per attempt when pressured, according to Sports Info Solutions, above Mac Jones and Zach Wilson but below Carson Wentz, Joe Flacco, and just about everyone else. Signing Brady means making such a great investment in building a superline and arsenal for him that would-be suitors might as well just save money and see what Geno Smith could do with such resources.

Yet some owner or general manager surely believes that Brady is worth a 2023 rental with a 2024 option. More importantly, Brady believes it. So strike up the Brady Watch.

  • The Dolphins? Mike McDaniel and Chris Grier insist Tua Tagovailoa is their quarterback. Neither of them actually sign paychecks.
  • The Panthers? Pro Football Talk arrived there this week. PFT will be making multiple stops at all stations over the next few months.
  • The Raiders? Brady and Josh McDaniels, together again, this time with Davante Adams. Mark Davis could borrow some money off Jon Gruden to pay them.
  • The Jets? Unlikely but Favrian. Brady would hate New York but might be up for a little self-torture if it means embarrassing Bill Belichick twice per year.
  • A return to the Patriots? Can you imagine? Would you prefer a meteor strike?
  • The Commanders, Colts, Saints, Cardinals, Ravens? All sound like implausible, awful ideas. But any competent local blogger can dream up a scenario. The Brady Watch is the stuff dreams are made of.

The Brady Watch is easy to laugh at, but it saved my industry in 2020: it was the only sports story in the world during COVID's dark dawn, and the speculation-and-signing cycle kept the lights on at sports-talk stations and freelance football writers busy for weeks.

The Brady Watch led to Brady Triumph, and later Brady Retirement followed by Brady Unretirement, plus Brady Divorce for the celebrity gossip scene. The Brady Industry is an Internet traffic driver. He's a household name to millions of casual fans who have no idea who Justin Herbert is. Another Brady Watch is preferable on many levels to a three-month Justin Fields Trade Vigil, especially since Brady remains a far superior quarterback to Fields.

So yes, we're doing this. And yes, we must take it seriously. But not too seriously. So instead of baiting the search-engine hook with a Five Teams Brady Could Play For in 2023 worm—though we kinda-sorta just did, didn't we?—let's steer into more familiar Walkthrough territory: comic books.

Magneto died in a recent run of X-Men comics. The X-Men have learned how to resurrect the dead whenever they choose (long story), but Magneto for-good died in the story, except that he did not. It turns out that ol' Erik Lehnsherr can use his electromagnetic powers to keep his heart beating and blood flowing for a plot-useful period of time even after getting his chest exploded. So Magneto "died," then climbed from some space rubble, helped defeat a level-boss villain, delivered one of his trademark soliloquies for about 40 panels, then died for real. For now.

Brady is the NFL's Magneto in many ways: principled antagonist to some; complicated hero to others; strangely ageless; imperious and a little aloof; able to do the impossible with an effortless flourish of his arm.

Brady's 2022 season felt like Magneto's not-quite death before the heartbeat trick. Brady has one more battle and operatic finale in him, because he wants to have one, and that's all it takes for him to conjure one out of sheer willpower.

And if he announces his retirement, no one is likely to believe it.

Coaching Carouselambra

News and notes from hiring cycle:

Greg Roman steps down as Ravens offensive coordinator.

The Ravens and Lamar Jackson are in the process of tossing each other's stuff onto the front lawn. Roman is the vintage stereo with the turntable.

John Harbaugh says Lamar Jackson will have input during the coordinator search.

That's not an olive branch. It's a reminder to Jackson that the Ravens retain the rights to his services until they choose not to. It's like reminding your partner in a separation that the car is in your name.   

Titans hire Ran Carthon as general manager.

Carthon spent a decade at the director-of-personnel level for the Rams and 49ers after four years as a Falcons scout.

Carthon is highly qualified—check out the 49ers roster—and also may have broken through the old-boy ceiling in part because of the recent NFL policy which incentivizes minority hires for prominent positions with compensatory draft picks.

Does … does that mean a progressive-leaning NFL policy is working the way it was intended to work? Maybe the NFL deserves a little credit for tackling an equity issue in an effective way that could be used as a model in other industries? Or will doing something besides incessantly criticizing and shaming the NFL get Walkthrough kicked out of the Socially Conscious Sportswriters Society?

(Walkthrough has been hereby kicked out of the Socially Conscious Sportswriters Society.)

Chargers fire offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, quarterbacks coach Shane Day, and linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite; will retain Brandon Staley.

Staley may not handle fourth downs aggressively anymore, but he still scapegoats aggressively.

Ben Johnson decides to remain the Lions offensive coordinator.

One conversation with the Houston Texans was all it took to make working for Dan Campbell seem perfectly normal.

New Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort says "ego will not be tolerated" in the organization.

The Cardinals problem isn't ego. It's id.

Browns hire Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator.

Schwartz's system requires outstanding defensive tackles, and Ndamukong Suh ain't walking through that door. (For the right price, Suh will absolutely walk through that door.)

Buccaneers fire offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Todd Bowles asked Leftwich for a personal improvement plan early in the week. Leftwich handed it off to Leonard Fournette. It still has not arrived.

Commanders offensive coordinator interview list includes Pat Shurmur, Ken Zampese, Charles London, and Eric Stuberville.

Round up the dreariest suspects! Also: Charles London is almost certainly Carson Wentz's pseudonym.

Steelers retain Matt Canada as offensive coordinator.

Find someone as devoted to you as Mike Tomlin is to even his most obviously overmatched assistants. At least this means Canada won't interview with the Commanders.

Aaron Rodgers is not "mentally or emotionally ready" to make a decision about his future.

No one is.

Sean Payton Watch

Sean Payton will be the head coach of the Denver Broncos by the middle of next week. That's because Payton wants to coach the Broncos, the Broncos want Payton to coach them, and the New Orleans Saints are comfortable with their brokerage fee.

Payton tipped his hand when he publicly announced to Colin Cowherd that the Saints would accept "a mid or later first-round pick" to release him from his contract with the team. Oddly specific, don't you think? Why not just say "a first-round pick?" Do the Saints NOT want an early first-round pick?

Of course not. Payton just doesn't want to coach the Texans (second overall pick in the 2023 draft), Cardinals (third overall), or Colts (fourth overall), and he's not afraid to publicly signal as much. He wants the Broncos to make a bid, and he wants everyone to know that the Saints will find the late-round pick the Broncos acquired from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb trade to be adequate compensation.

Let's look at this from another angle. Say you are the Colts and want to dangle the third overall pick in front of the Colts to help land Payton. The whole world now knows you are overpaying. So do you ask for a second-round pick or something in return? Now you are haggling with the Saints merely for the rights to Payton. The Colts and Cardinals are now positioned behind the 8-ball. The Texans have the 12th overall pick from the Browns, but they're idiots whose best pitches are "Houston is kinda near New Orleans" and "we'll let you run everything, until the owner finds a new life coach, and then buckle up."

That leaves the Carolina Panthers. David Tepper speaks to Payton on Friday. The Panthers possess the ninth overall pick, which is plausibly "mid." Tepper has money and a reputation for relative sanity, the Panthers have lots of building blocks, Charlotte is a pleasant little city. Tepper should be able to make a persuasive pitch.

There are only two problems. The first is minor: the Saints don't want Payton in the NFC South. They probably wouldn't actively block Payton—who has certainly talked this through with Mickey Loomis and Gayle Benson—but they won't offer any bargains on that ninth pick, and may gouge the Panthers for a little more.

The second problem is glaring and obvious: the Panthers have no quarterback. Their best path to getting a quarterback is the ninth overall pick. It would take some creative accounting to clear enough cap space to go quarterback shopping. And Payton left the Saints to get away from creative accounting.

As mentioned earlier, Pro Football Talk floated some Payton-Tom Brady fanfic early in the week. The fact that they burned the piece early tells you a lot about its merit.

Russell Wilson at his absolute worst is better than no quarterback and no good path toward obtaining a quarterback. The Broncos roster is better than the Panthers roster right now. Vic Fangio has detached himself from Payton's assistant-coaching bundle to interview elsewhere, a sign that he won't be asked to return to the Broncos in a reduced role.

Money? Tepper and Greg Penner are Croesus and King Midas. But Penner wants it more, because Penner absolutely, positively cannot afford another Nathaniel Hackett who has no idea when to call timeout or how to keep a quarterback's ego from swallowing the locker room. Tepper can sell Panthers fans on Ken Dorsey or Mike Kafka. Penner must convince Broncos fans that the new sheriff knows what he's doing and means business. When the nine-figure sums start flowing, Tepper is more likely to tap out, and Friday's interview might well exist solely to make Penner ante up.

So Payton will join Josh McDaniels, Andy Reid, and Waffles McGuesswork as the AFC West head coaches. Walkthrough 99% guarantees it. Ultimately, it's probably the best choice for both sides. Payton may not turn Wilson and the Broncos around immediately, but he'll force us to take them seriously again immediately.


39 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2023, 2:57pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:35am

  • A return to the Patriots? Can you imagine? Would you prefer a meteor strike?

Who would look less happy about that -- Brady or Belichick?

I mean, Belichick is a walking bleeding ulcer at the best of times, but his grumpiness might create a reality-altering vortex, like Griffith with a behelit...

Socially Conscious Sportswriters Society

The socially part I can see. But is there a society of conscious sportswriters? It's an industry built around either loudmouthed clickbait (even before clicking existed) or vapid puns & access-based fawning. We decry the death of journalism on behalf of journalists who are still well-above where sportswriters have always been.

Ben Johnson decides to remain the Lions offensive coordinator.

One conversation with the Houston Texans was all it took to make working for Dan Campbell seem perfectly normal.

I can see the appeal of Campbell. Campbell will back whatever oddball play or strategy you implement, so long as it is aggressive and is based on the gameplan. 4th-game pass to your rookie tackle? Go for it. 3rd-long hook-and-lateral to end GB's season? All for it. Everything fails against the Patriots? We were playing to win and we'll keep doing it. Campbell is the kind of HC who takes a bullet for his coordinators so long as they are doing what Campbell expects them to do. There's... not a lot of that in the league.

Points: 10

#5 by bravehoptoad // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:06pm

It's an industry built around either loudmouthed clickbait (even before clicking existed) or vapid puns & access-based fawning. 

Let's not forget the "I'm smarter than the room" analytics writing, which, hello, the site you're on.

I like that kind of writing if they really are smarter than the room, and love to hate it when they aren't.

Points: 7

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:37am

Brady is the NFL's Magneto

So one kid is going to be a weird asshole and the second kid is going to be a weird asshole who murders everyone?

Points: 2

#4 by rh1no // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:06pm

Only on Earth-199999. Pretty sure we're on Earth-616, so both his kids turn out to be good guys.

Points: 4

#3 by BillHouston // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:38am

"The Cardinals problem isn't ego. It's id." 

That and the Jungian shadow becoming dominant in the personality.

Points: 2

#6 by serutan // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:12pm

Or one could say the Cardinals are Inspector Clouseau minus the ability to solve the case despite himself.

Points: 7

#14 by miqewalsh // Jan 20, 2023 - 1:10pm

Go go gadget Murray!

Points: 0

#7 by morganja // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:19pm

How is it that the Saints 'own' the rights to Sean Payton? Can he not work for whoever he chooses? If not, what is to keep him from returning to the Saints, and forcing them to 'rehire' him?

Points: 0

#11 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:30pm

There's this legal thing, they call it a 'contract'. You can find it in any legal dictionary. Maybe try Googling it.

Points: -3

#12 by morganja // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:51pm

Can anyone who isn't a complete jerk and an idiot answer that for me?
What is in the contract that prohibits Payton from getting another job? Is it a non-compete clause? In which case would the FTC imminently, and finally, banning them prevent the Saints from demanding compensation?
Are they paying him money (consideration) each year to not work for someone else? If so, what is to prevent him from ending the contract at any time?
If it was consideration paid to him beforehand, can't he just return the money?
It is an anti-free market violation to have 'contracts' that prevent competition, which is why the FTC is belatedly acting on non-compete clauses.

Points: 1

#13 by CincySaint // Jan 20, 2023 - 1:09pm

Payton is under contract with the Saints for two more years.   He "retired" so the Saints aren't paying him and he isn't working for them.   But the terms of the contact include the rights to his coaching talents.  So if a team wants to hire Payton in the next two years, they have to get his rights from the Saints.

NFL rules only allow coaches to be traded for draft picks and money not players.  Hence all the discussion about picks and what the Saints want.   The teams that asked permission from the Saints to interview Payton - as required by contract/NFL rules - have been told the ballpark compensation the Saints expect.   But the teams that want to hire Payton won't be in bidding war to give the Saints' picks.   The teams will be in a bidding war to give Payton large amounts of money and potentially power in their organization.

Many Saints fans - not including me - think the Saints have leverage and are going to get a massive haul of draft picks during a bidding war.  That's not going to happen.  The Saints will get reasonable compensation based on more recent coaching trades (not the ancient Gruden deal).

Note that Payton could just wait two years -- like stick to broadcasting -- and then the Saints would get nothing.   That would allow Payton to go something without mortgaging the future of his new team.  But it feels like he wants to coach now while the bidding for his services is high. 


Points: 5

#15 by morganja // Jan 20, 2023 - 1:30pm

Do we know if that means that Payton can just go back to the Saints and they would be 'forced' to hire him?

A 'contract' in which someone is not getting paid, and cannot work for anyone else, would seem to fit the definition of a non-compete clause. If the FTC issues this expected ruling, has anyone seen anything about how it would effect Payton and the Saint's compensation? Honestly, I loved watching the Saints under Payton. I know the finances are different now, but I wouldn't mind seeing him go back. 
He is also the one coach I would be alright with instead of Wilks in Carolina. But not at the cost of the 9nth pick. The Panthers are in desperate need of another high-pick Quarterback, like Darnold or Baker...

Points: 0

#16 by jkwilson0 // Jan 20, 2023 - 1:58pm

The Saints would be thrilled to have him back!

Sports contracts really aren't free market work contracts like us normals have. Think of it more in terms of *rights*. Signing/drafting teams own exclusive rights to players and coaches. This is probably for the best. Otherwise a player could just walk out the door midseason (mid-game?) and go play for the other team.

But no one is "forced" to work. If you don't want to play/coach, you can indeed walk out the door. You just can't sign somewhere else. Sean Payton did walk out. So the Saints don't have to pay him if he doesn't show up, but they still own his rights. Now he wants to coach again, only he doesn't want to spend time on their rebuild. The Saints could refuse negotiations and he'd have no recourse but to wait out the exclusivity window, but they're better off letting him go and getting some compensation from another team than nothing at all.

Points: 3

#19 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 2:13pm

And those are "rights" which the legally-recognized Players' Union negotiated into in return for such-and-such. Which is why union-decertifying works as a 'turn over the table/gameboard' labor tactic.

Points: 1

#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2023 - 2:54pm

Rights work because of a collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA.

My understanding is that there is not one with the NFLCA (and coaches are not obligated to be members). So I'm not sure how rights work here, given vanilla anti-trust law would seem to prevail.

Otherwise a player could just walk out the door midseason (mid-game?) and go play for the other team.

This was a fairly common occurrence in the early days of the NFL. Granted, teams bouncing checks was common, too.

Points: 0

#18 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 2:07pm

Fine, I'll give you the adult answer (which I don't think you'll like). No, Payton can't retire, then when the Saints hire his replacement go say 'OK now I want back so either pay us both or the contract is voided HAHAHA! on you!'

Points: 0

#26 by morganja // Jan 20, 2023 - 5:49pm

Then he should be free to coach whatever team he wants. 
Contracts in violation of free trade are illegal, or at least are supposed to be illegal. Mileage may vary when dealing with billionaires and our legal system. 

The NFL rules create these 'contracts' that are designed for one purpose, to limit the market power of coaches, so that the NFL owners do not have to pay them their market value.

Points: -1

#30 by ahmadrashad // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:22pm

Well, we don't know what's in the contract. It's possible Payton got a consideration like a signing bonus in return for his rights. 

Points: 1

#31 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:23pm

Ergo I was right that you wouldn't like the adult answer, and right from the beginning in that your whole thing all along was just to carp that labor law doesn't say what you think it should say so therefore it's all a billionaire capitalist conspiracy.

Points: 0

#37 by morganja // Jan 23, 2023 - 6:35pm

So you are 1) totally denying that the FTC is changing the law to prohibit non-compete clauses, and 2) that non-compete clauses are inherently anti-competitive.
That is the 'adult' answer? 
You are not aware that every econ textbook in the world disagrees with your assessment?
Perhaps if you are ignorant, you should refrain from commenting rather than getting your panties in a wad over something beyond your educational level.

Points: 0

#35 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 21, 2023 - 10:48am

The coach and team each make concessions. The coach gets a salary that is still paid even if they are fired, and the team gets exclusive rights to their services even if they retire in the middle and the team can trade a coach's rights.

Points: 3

#38 by morganja // Jan 23, 2023 - 6:36pm

So we are back to the original question. Is Payton getting paid by the Saints right now?

Points: 0

#9 by jim1060 // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:27pm

This piece gets the win for best nickname…”Waffles McGuesswork”

Points: 6

#10 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 12:29pm

I think it should be noted "Payton left the Saints to get away from creative accounting" that he accounted.

Points: 2

#33 by LionInAZ // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:32pm

I don't remember Payton being either the owner or the GM of the Saints. Perhaps he had some major influence, but ultimate responsibility lies with the ones who negotiate the contracts.

Points: 0

#17 by Kaepernicus // Jan 20, 2023 - 1:59pm

When was the last time we had 10+ OC positions open in the same off-season? We are going to see some really bad retreads get jobs. The fact that the league is leaning into making hot shot OCs coaches will make this even worse. Given the market, staying with Matt Canada may be the smartest move the Steelers could have made. They have a rookie QB who got markedly better as the season went wrapped up. Given the lack of obvious upgrades riding with the same system for another year is probably Pickett's best chance to improve. Lombardi was so bad that almost anyone else would be an upgrade. It seems like a good year to go after college coaches with upside. Who are the hottest HC/OC candidates in college? I know retreads like BoB and Monken are getting poached, but who are the under the radar types from smaller programs doing innovative stuff?

Points: 4

#20 by Legion // Jan 20, 2023 - 2:25pm

Rivers is posting Final Fantasy Tactics screenshots, and Mike is babbling about X-Men.

We’re really leaning into the “nerd” part of this football nerd website today.

Points: 5

#22 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 20, 2023 - 2:56pm

It's a site about math. What did you expect?

Points: 1

#23 by JoelBarlow // Jan 20, 2023 - 3:22pm

who looked at this year's Bucs and thought - loaded team - two years ago - sure 


 the Buccaneers, who surrounded him with top wide receiver talent and the best offensive line they could afford

Points: 2

#24 by reddwarf // Jan 20, 2023 - 3:27pm

I know I'm in the minority of Denver fans, but I'm not a Payton fan.  At best, he's the guy that could only get one Super Bowl out of a stellar QB and good to great roster; at worst, he's the selfish coach behind bountygate and a fake retirement because he didn't want to deal with the fallout of the cap shenanigans he most certainly signed off on and asked for.  I simply don't trust him to do what's best for the Broncos, merely what's best for Sean Payton.

On the other hand, at the time I thought the Hackett hire was promising, so obviously my judgement is terrible.  But Payton is one of those guys I just don't trust.

Oh, and I absolutely LOATHE the idea of giving up more first round picks at this point.


Points: 2

#25 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 5:16pm

Well, yeah, Sean Payton indeed will do what's best for Sean Payton.

As opposed to Anyone Else whom they might hire. The idea is align your organizational goal with the interests of the employee.

Points: 1

#27 by KnotMe // Jan 20, 2023 - 6:51pm

I'm kinda curious where the whole "Payton to Denver" comes from. There is the comment, but that mostly means the Saints will take Denvers pick. Not sure why Payton would WANT the job. He has to fix Russ and play in a loaded division and is down picks already. 

Points: 0

#29 by mrh // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:09pm

Payton may not want the job.  He may be feigning interest in order to drive up his contract.  The problem is, the more a team pays the Saints to acquire his services, the less his services are worth.

Points: 1

#28 by JoelBarlow // Jan 20, 2023 - 7:02pm

the NFC has just been very weird for about... 20 years

the idea that Brees and Rodgers would only get to two SBs is just wild

Points: 0

#34 by BigRichie // Jan 20, 2023 - 9:33pm

I don't think so. (and I've watched Rodgers very closely all his career) Just means QBs aren't the be-all and end-all some make them out to be. Not quite, anyway.

When receivers or an O-line or a defense that never puts you into a hole or special teams that give you 10+ yards of field position every game do their job well, they so help the quarterback look good. And so some of the credit they deserve then goes to the quarterback instead.

Points: 3

#36 by Boots Day // Jan 21, 2023 - 11:00am

I googled "Eric Stuberville," and the only hit on the entire Internet was this column. Did you mean former Broncos head coach Eric Studesville?

Points: 1

#39 by ManningSux18 // Jan 30, 2023 - 2:57pm

I assume it's the same Eric Studesville who earned the interim HC job for the Donkeys in 2010 when Mcdaniels was run out of town with his "tail between his legs". As I'm sure you know, the following season John Fox got the nod and the team improved drastically. Can't say I'd have much confidence in Studesville as an OC based on his lame duck 2010 interim demonstration.  I'd casually estimate Stud would perform less than 4 wins above replacement

Points: 0

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