Sean Payton tops on Eagles' wish list

Eagles' Darren Sproles heads to end zone on 6-yard touchdown run in first quarter. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Eagles' Darren Sproles heads to end zone on 6-yard touchdown run in first quarter. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: January 05, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Sean Payton will meet Monday with New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis to discuss his future with the team.

Twelve hundred miles to the northeast in Philadelphia, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie will be paying very close attention to how that discussion goes.

According to a league source, Payton and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh are at the tippy-top of Lurie's wish list of candidates to replace Chip Kelly, who was fired last week.

Lurie would seem to have almost no shot at getting Harbaugh, who spent 10 years as an assistant with the Eagles before getting hired by Baltimore in 2008. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have the third most wins of any team in the league in the last eight years and won a Super Bowl in 2012.

The Ravens lost to the Bengals Sunday, 24-16, to finish 5-11. But there's been no indication that his job is in jeopardy or that he is unhappy in Baltimore.

What's more, general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't seem to have any interest in letting him out of the final two years of his contract, even if the Eagles were willing to offer a compensation package and Harbaugh was willing to go.

Payton's situation in New Orleans appears to be a little more fluid. With two years and $17 million left on his contract, the Saints aren't going to fire him, even though the team finished 7-9 this season and failed to make the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.

But there are have been indications that both sides might be ready to part ways. As Fox Sports' Jay Glazer pointed out Sunday, though, the Saints likely would want compensation from the team that hires Payton. The price he mentioned was a second-round pick.

The Eagles currently don't have a second-round pick in next spring's draft. They gave that away to the Rams in the Sam Bradford deal.

There's one other problem. If the Saints agree to let Payton walk, the Eagles won't be the only team bidding for his services. The 49ers, Colts and Giants also already have been mentioned as possible Payton suitors if he becomes available and they all fire their coaches, and there are sure to be more.

Lurie always has liked Payton, who turned 52 last week. He was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach in 1997-98 under Ray Rhodes.

But would Payton be interested in the Eagles? While Loomis wears the title of general manager in New Orleans, Payton essentially has complete control of personnel with the Saints, and almost certainly would want it with the next team he coaches.

That wouldn't seem to mesh with Lurie's new "collaborative" personnel plan, featuring former GM Howie Roseman. But in case you didn't notice, Lurie was purposely vague about Roseman's exact role in personnel last week.

They made a bigger deal about the elevation of senior personnel advisor Tom Donahoe to senior director of player personnel. But according to a league source, that's essentially a short-term situation that will change once the Eagles hire a new coach and bring in a younger personnel lieutenant.

Donahoe, a former general manager with the Bills and football operations director with the Steelers, still lives in Pittsburgh. He's 68-years-old and really isn't interested in being a full-time personnel chief indefinitely.

It appears the Eagles are using him as a screen in case any of their coaching candidates have concerns about working with Roseman.

If the Eagles strike out with Payton, yet another former Eagles assistant could go to the top of their list. The Daily News confirmed an earlier report by ESPN's Adam Schefter that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson is a leading candidate for the Eagles head-coaching job.

Pederson, 47, spent four years on Andy Reid's staff from 2009 to 2012, including the final two as the team's quarterbacks coach. He started nine games at quarterback for the Eagles in 1999 before Donovan McNabb became the starter.

The Eagles are expected to ask the Chiefs for permission to talk to Pederson, but first, they will see what happens with Payton in New Orleans Monday.

"I like Doug a lot," said center Jason Kelce, whose brother, Travis, plays for Pederson in KC. "He's a former player. He was here when I got here (in 2011).

"I've learned not to take what the media says as sure-fire. But I liked Doug a lot when he was here. He connected with the players very well. He has the personality traits that would make him good with players. And that's besides what he knows on offense and all of the schematics."

The news about Payton's possible availability drew a positive response from Eagles players following Sunday's meaningless season-ending 35-30 win over the Giants.

Running back Darren Sproles and safety Malcolm Jenkins both played for Payton in New Orleans.

"He's a great guy," said Sproles, who caught 232 passes in three seasons with the Saints. "He's willing to take shots on offense. He puts a lot of people in space and gets them the ball in a position where they can do something with it."

"He's had a lot of success in this league," said Jenkins, who was drafted in the first round by Payton and the Saints in 2009. "He knows what it takes to win. He has a Super Bowl ring. For a big stretch, five-six years, he had a really good team. He built a winning culture when he got there starting in 2006. He built a solid team that stood the test of time.

"He's a really good coach who's been brought up by other good coaches. He's one of the bright offensive minds in this game. He knows how to use guys and put them in the best matchups and situations.

"If he's available, he's probably going to be on everybody's list as a guy to interview. He's going to be a hot commodity."

Tight end Zach Ertz, who has caught 35 passes for 450 yards in the last four games, including nine for 152 yards Sunday, is well aware of the success that another tight end, Jimmy Graham, had in Payton's offense. For four straight seasons with the Saints, Graham had 85 or more receptions and nine or more touchdown catches.

"It's not only the production Jimmy (Graham) had in that offense, but the offensive numbers they put up as a whole under Drew (Brees)," Ertz said. "We're going to have to see what happens with the quarterback position first and foremost."

Sam Bradford turned in another solid performance Sunday, completing 30 of 38 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants. But he will be a free agent.

Before he was fired, Kelly made it clear that he wanted Bradford back. But we have yet to hear those words from Lurie or Roseman. According to a league source, they want to wait until after they hire a new coach and get input from him on re-signing Bradford.

"I fully expected him to come in here and be a tremendous player for us (next year)," Kelce said of Bradford. "Obviously he's a free agent. We lost a good free agent last year in (wide receiver) Jeremy Maclin.

"We'll see what happens this time. But if we can retain Sam, I think that's the most important position on the team. If we can retain a guy like that, that would be huge for a ballclub, regardless of who the head coach is."

Kelce thinks Bradford would absolutely flourish in Payton's offense, much like Brees has.

"He had an explosive offense that put a lot of points on the board," Kelce said. "I think he has a quarterback here who is going to be able to do what he wants to do if he is the guy. That would be interesting."

BY THE NUMBERS

* Sam Bradford had a 78.9 completion percentage against the Giants, completing 30 of 38 passes. That's the highest single-game completion percentage ever by an Eagles quarterback with at least 30 attempts.

* Over the last three games, Bradford had 1,061 passing yards. That's the second highest three-game total by an Eagles quarterback. Donovan McNabb threw for 1,076 yards in a three-game span in 2005.

* In his last six starts, Bradford had a 99.1 passer rating.

* Bradford completed six of nine third-down passes for 75 yards and six first downs against the Giants. In his last five starts, he had a 104.8 passer rating on third down. Twenty-six of his 36 third-down completions resulted in first downs.

* Bradford set single-season franchise records this season for completions (346) and completion percentage (65.0).

* His five 300-yard passing games tied a club record set by McNabb in '04 and Sonny Jurgensen in '61.

* Zach Ertz, who had nine catches for 152 yards, is the first Eagles tight end with back-to-back 100-yard games since Brent Celek in '09.

* Ertz's 30 catches over the last three games is a club record.

* Jordan Matthews had touchdown catches in five of their last six games, including two Sunday.

* DeMarco Murray's 54-yard touchdown run was the second longest of his career. He had a 91-yard TD run with the Cowboys against the Rams in 2011.

* The Eagles have won 13 of their last 16 games against the Giants, including eight of their last nine on the road.

* Eight of Jordan Matthews' 21 receptions over the last three games have been on third down. Seven of them resulted in first downs.


pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog

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