For Jerry, Payton's the one who got away
NOV 06, 2013 11:58p ET
Jason Garrett could change all that by leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, but we're trying to deal in reality here. Jerry will likely spend the rest of his career wondering what might have happened if he'd only pulled the trigger on hiring Payton when he had the chance.
To refresh your memory, this week marks the one-year anniversary of Payton becoming one of the hottest free-agent coaching names in the history of the league. On the morning of Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, news broke that the league had voided a contract extension that he'd signed in 2011. There was language in the contract that allowed Payton to leave if Saints GM Mickey Loomis was replaced. Apparently the league looks out for old men such as Saints owner Tom Benson who dances with an umbrella after big wins at the Superdome.
When news broke last November, all eyes turned to Jones. Garrett and the Cowboys fell to 3-5 after a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that evening. Jones was asked about Payton in the postgame locker room.
"I have no idea about that," he said. "I have no understanding of anything to do with his or any of the Saints business or contracts. That was news to me.”
But Jones would have plenty of time to gain an understanding of Payton's situation. All he had to do was pick up the phone and call Payton, which is something I'm sure he did. Jones did his due diligence on Payton, but I don't think he could stomach giving up on Garrett after only his second full season. The right move for the organization was to pay Payton whatever he wanted. It's not like Jones has ever been shy about doling out millions to players. Why would he be shy about shelling out $8 million or so for a man widely considered a top-3 head coach in the NFL?
But that's just it. Jerry has never been comfortable paying big money to head coaches, unless they're going to help him build a new stadium (see Bill Parcells). Jones hates the thought of spending that type of money, in part because he actually thinks he could do the job for a lot less.
It didn't surprise me at all that Jones passed on Payton. But he was still wrong to make that decision. You don't pass on one of the best coaches in the NFL to avoid hurting someone's feelings. Jones had always regretted losing Payton to the Saints. He saw him as a potential successor to Parcells, but Bill stayed a year too long for Jones to retain Payton.
It would've been fascinating to watch Payton work with Tony Romo. Like Romo, Payton played quarterback at Eastern Illinois. He lobbied for the Cowboys to bring in Romo as a free-agent quarterback in 2003 and then played a significant role in his development. Payton and former Cowboys quarterbacks coach David Lee probably did more than anyone else to launch Romo's career.
Payton caused a stir in New Orleans a couple years ago when he decided to make Dallas his permanent residence. That's why a lot of folks assumed that he'd be interested in the Cowboys job. Payton didn't seem to have a sense of urgency to get a new contract done with the Saints. But that's what he did in the end.
Jerry got caught flat-footed when he'd caught a massive break. And I think someday (maybe Sunday?) he'll regret not going after Payton.
Garrett has been a solid presence for the Cowboys. He may turn into a decent NFL head coach. But he's not Sean Payton.
And that's something Jerry will have to live with for a long time.
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