Talk of Payton replacing Staley fails Chargers history test

Multiple NFL analysts with ESPN speculated seven days ago the Chargers might replace coach Brandon Staley with Sean Payton this offseason.

My guess: Staley stays two more years, minimum.

Team owner Dean Spanos doesn’t seem to have an itchy trigger finger; nor does his son John Spanos, who heads the football operation, or General Manager Tom Telesco, who has worked with the Spanoses since January 2013.

Mike McCoy and Anthony Lynn were given four years on the job by the same trio of leaders. Staley still has six games left in his second season, having posted a 15-13 record. Same as McCoy and Lynn — who both had more NFL experience than he did — Staley never served as a full-time head coach before the Spanoses and Telesco hired him.

While it makes sense that Payton — and many others prospective NFL head coaches — would love to head a team quarterbacked by Justin Herbert, there’s no franchise precedent for the Spanoses to make such a move.

Put more directly, hiring Payton would require the Spanoses to break new ground in a family operation that dates to 1984, when patriarch Alex Spanos bought a majority stake in the club.

That Payton won a Super Bowl as a head coach differentiates him from all Spanos hires of head coaches including the first hire, Al Saunders, a Chargers assistant whom Alex Spanos promoted into the head job after firing Don Coryell during the 1986 season.

Money may be worth considering.

McCoy and Lynn ranked near the bottom of the NFL coaching pay scale, aligning them with several other Spanos hires. Payton would land near the top of the pay scale. In contrast to Marty Schottenheimer — the proven NFL winner GM John Butler hired with Dean Spanos’ approval — Payton’s former employer probably won’t be paying a chunk of his salary.

In addition, Payton might cost his next team premium draft capital to compensate his previous employer, the New Orleans Saints.

So although the Spanoses needn’t be beholden to their history as they seek a first Super Bowl trophy and NFL supremacy in Los Angeles, swapping out Staley for Payton would certainly require leaving their comfort zone. Possible? Sure. Improbable? Yes.

If there’s franchise precedent for firing Staley before his third season, the best comparison isn’t a good one. Kevin Gilbride’s ouster came seven weeks into his second season in 1998, but Gilbride’s teams had gone 4-12 and 2-4, a far cry from Staley’s marks of 9-8 and 6-5.

And it’s likely not irrelevant that Staley, by several accounts, gets along with folks better than Gilbride did.

If there’s pessimism about Staley’s future in his current job, it may understate what his second team could still accomplish in a parity-driven league.

The Chargers (6-5) are tied with the Patriots (6-5) for eighth place in the 16-team AFC, one spot outside the playoff lineup. The Patriots play in a tougher division headed by Miami (8-3), Buffalo (8-3) and the New York Jets (7-4). While it would be a significant blemish if a Herbert-led offense again fell short of the playoffs — to which a seventh seed was added last year — Staley in seven weeks could be coaching in the wild-card round where Lynn appeared — and won — in his second year.

If Herbert continues to play — and he’s been available to start all 44 games since entering the NFL — the Chargers will be favored in most games. This week, coming off Sunday’s 25-24 victory as a three-point favorite at Arizona, they’re a two-point choice to win at Las Vegas. Oddsmakers also likely will favor them in their final three games: at Indianapolis against the Colts (4-6-1); against a Rams team (3-8) that may continue to lack Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald; and in the finale, at Denver, against a Broncos squad (3-8) that’s lost the most payroll to injury in the league.

Herbert and Tua

Consecutive home games against Miami (8-3) and Tennessee (7-4) will precede those final three games.

As it stands now, the Chargers will hold the clear advantage at quarterback going into no fewer than five their final six games.

Tua Tagavailoa rates the exception. Call it a near-draw unrelated to Tua going one spot ahead of Herbert in the 2020 draft.

Though Herbert’s big edge in durability makes him the clear long-term choice — supported as well by Herbert’s advantages in arm strength, vision and rushing ability — Tua this year has shown much more of the special accuracy and the sudden movements that earned high grades entering the 2020 draft.

Tua’s breakout season deserves respect, regardless of the roles played by first-year head coach Mike McDaniel and WR Tyreek Hill.

Miami’s offensive line bears watching in the wake of injuries Sunday to top blocker Teron Armstead and linemate Austin Jackson. The surging Niners loom Sunday as Tua’s toughest test of the season.

Two things

  • Broncos GM George Paton should ask Santa for a backhoe. He’s tasked with digging out of his trade for QB Russell Wilson and hire of head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Wilson’s five-year contract ($161 million in guaranteed money) doesn’t have an out until after the 2025 season, per Wilson, who turns 34 this week, isn’t nearly the mobile playmaker he was in his peak years with Seattle and is having his worst statistical season. Hackett was new to head coaching and full-time play-calling when Paton hired him. Under Hackett-Wilson, the Broncos are last in scoring and 31st in touchdown passes.
  • Critics owe Seahawks coach Pete Carroll an apology for implying he was too old to keep up. For Wilson he got four premium draft picks and useful veterans in DL Shelby Harris and TE Noah Fant while also opening up budget space. The team’s 2022 draft class, strengthened by players taken ninth (T Charles Cross) and 40th (DE Boye Mafe) with picks obtained for Wilson, is off to an bright start. The Broncos picks Carroll, 71, snagged for the 2023 draft currently stand fourth and 36th, giving Carroll and GM John Schneider golden options to go with their original first- and second- round chips. As for the criticism Carroll improperly catered to Wilson, current Seahawks QB Geno Smith is having a terrific, career-best season under the same coordinator, Shane Waldron, under whom Wilson’s tenure was uneven.

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