Call it a win-win result, for the New Orleans Saints and for the winningest coach in franchise history.
New Orleans wanted to accumulate draft capital, and Sean Payton wanted to coach in the NFL again.
The mutual goals officially were achieved Friday, when Payton, the most successful coach in Saints history, signed his contract to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos. The Saints and Broncos agreed to terms on a trade days ago for Payton, who had two years remaining on his contract to coach the Saints when he stepped down following the 2021 season, but the deal did not become official until Payton signed a contract.
Payton coached the Saints for 15 years before he stepped away, stating that though he would not be coaching in New Orleans and expected to work in television for his immediate future, he fully intended to return to coaching.
In part, the terms for Payton's return, after a season working with the NFL pregame crew at Fox, included Denver sending the Saints its first-round pick this year (No. 29 overall) and its second-round in 2024, in exchange for Payton and the Saints' third-round pick in 2024.
New Orleans previously did not have a first-round pick this year, having traded it to the Eagles in the deal that net New Orleans an extra first-round pick in 2022 and a sixth-round pick, while Philadelphia accepted New Orleans' first-rounders in '22 and '23, a third-and seventh-rounder in '22, and a second-round pick in '24.
"I was excited for us, I'm excited for Sean," Saints assistant general manager and college scouting director Jeff Ireland said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl. "I'm in charge of the draft, so more draft picks for our staff and our team. That's exciting. So, I'm looking forward to getting to work a little bit more in the first round.
"I thought it was really good compensation."
Ireland said that adding the first-round pick doesn't change the Saints' process as it relates to the draft.
"We're always going to evaluate every single player as if we had a top five pick, a 15th pick or a 29th pick," he said. "So it doesn't really change the way we do things or the way we approach the draft. But it does give us more flexibility.
"It gives us at least one more good player this year that we can add to our football team. We're excited about that."
Meanwhile, Payton becomes a head coach for the second time in his career, after leading the Saints to unprecedented heights. The franchise had played in six playoff games, with one victory, before he signed on to become coach in 2006.
In his first season, 2006, he guided New Orleans to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history, a feat the Saints would accomplish twice more, in the '09 and '18 seasons.
The Saints won Super Bowl XLIV following the '09 season with Payton as coach, and with Drew Brees at quarterback for 14 of his 15 seasons, he crafted one of the most dynamic offenses in NFL history. The Saints finished in the top 10 in offense in 13 of Payton's first 14 seasons, and they finished first or second nine times.
Payton left the franchise after compiling a 161-97 record including playoffs, the all-time leader in wins and playoff wins (nine), and the only coach to lead the franchise to the NFC Championship Game. And seven of New Orleans' nine division championships were won under Payton, including four straight NFC South crowns from 2017-20.
The Saints totaled nine 10-win seasons under Payton, after reaching that mark five times in the franchise's previous 39 years.