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Anthony Davis asking out of New Orleans set into motion for Sean Payton to stay

The Saints retained their illustrious head coach for longer thanks to a famous NBA player’s momentous decision

Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Amid the whirlwind of Sean Payton stepping down from his position as the Saints head coach yesterday, a very interesting piece of news bubbled up out of nowhere.

Essentially, had Anthony Davis not requested a trade out of New Orleans on January 28, 2019, Sean Payton would reportedly have soon thereafter become the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, per Mike Florio’s new book, Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t).

The year was 2019. The month, January. The Cowboys had won 10 of 16 games, along with a wild-card contest against the Seahawks. They lost to the Rams in the divisional round, 30-22. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones contemplated an upgrade from coach Jason Garrett to Sean Payton. Jones wanted to pull the trigger. Payton did, too.

Things unfolded quickly. The Saints had played in the NFC Championship, losing to the Rams on January 20. That week, Jones quietly made his move.

It was a delicate situation, for various reasons. First, the Cowboys had a coach. Jones wouldn’t have fired Garrett unless he knew he could have gotten Payton. Second, league rules (specifically, the Rooney Rule) require a diverse and inclusive search. Third, Jones had to ultimately know that, after going through the motions of a search, he’d be able to get Payton.

So a deal was worked out, behind the scenes. The Saints would have allowed the Cowboys to hire Payton. The Cowboys would have compensated the Saints for the rights to Payton’s contract. And Payton would have signed a new contract with the Cowboys.

It was ready to go. It was happening. It was locked, and it was loaded. Then came Monday, January 28. On that day, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis announced he would not sign another contract with the team, and he requested a trade. (In July, the Pelicans traded him to the Lakers.)

Gayle Benson owns both the Pelicans and the Saints. Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis was, as of January 2019, the executive vice president of basketball operations with the Pelicans. Once Davis made clear his intention to leave New Orleans, Loomis told Payton that Loomis couldn’t be the common thread between a pair of such high-profile Louisiana departures.

That ended it, just like that. The Saints were no longer interested in essentially trading Payton to the Cowboys. In September, Payton signed a new contract. That deal has three years left on it.

That’s incredible. The greatest head coach in Saints history was on the verge of leaving for Dallas, but Davis’ self-regarding motives saved the day, apparently benefitting the city of New Orleans more than anyone dreamed possible.

For those wondering about the validity of this story, there were rumors of Payton being the target of Jerry Jones, the owner of the cowboys, in January 2019 — and Florio broke that story down, too.

Here’s what Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas when asked to commit to the 2019 return of his head coach, with emphasis added: “Why would I put some kind of statement out that says this is what we’re going to do when we might have an opportunity here next week? This is the time when these things are thought about. This is the time when they are chewed on. This is when you may see an opportunity next week that you didn’t know existed this week in the area of personnel or in the area of coaching. And I’m not trying to be cute here. I’m just saying that one of the advantages that we have is that we can operate with that kind of flexibility.”

So what opportunity could arise next week? Short of the cloning of Sean McVay or the reanimation of Vince Lombardi, the universe of potential coaches is set. The universe of available coaches, however, will soon grow.

After Sunday, an AFC finalist and an NFC finalist will lose. Next week, coaches will be available, in theory, who aren’t available now.

And given that a month of Sunday Splash! reports has speculated on Saints coach Sean Payton moving on and, more specifically, linked him to the Cowboys, it’s fair to consider Jones’ comments through that lens. Is Jones suggesting that, if the Saints lose, the Cowboys would explore upgrading from Jason Garrett to Sean Payton?

For those who don’t know, there’s been a strong connection between the Jones’ family and Payton for some time. The now former Saints head coach was the Cowboys’ assistant head coach and quarterbacks’ coach under Bill Parcels for three seasons before coming to New Orleans.

So, it’s highly plausible to think that Anthony Davis asking out when he did could have changed Mickey Loomis’ tune. After all, who would want the stain of two of the biggest names in Louisiana professional sports history leaving within days of each other on their resume?

It feels quite weird to type, but thank you AD?

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.