After a one-year break, Sean Payton is back. He is recharged, rejuvented, re-energized.
But his mistrust of 345 Park Avenue still lingers.
In a lengthy profile from Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com, Payton vented a little bit about the powers-that-be.
“I’m cynical when it comes to New York,” Payton said.
Payton believes he has reason to be. In his final months with the Saints, Payton had one specific beef with the league office.
A study of penalties committed against each team in the prior four seasons showed that the Saints ranked 30th, 31st, 32nd, and 32nd in penalties called against their opponents. If it’s happenstance, it’s an extreme statistical rarity.
Payton’s not-so-subtle message was and is that the league’s bias against the Saints showed itself in the penalties not called against its opponents.
So what happened when the Saints presented their findings to the league office? Payton says there was no response.
And Payton’s suspicion went to the top of the ladder. “I think it starts with [Commissioner] Roger [Goodell],” Payton said.
Payton doesn’t believe Goodell deliberately ordered a Code Red against the Saints. Things don’t happen that blatantly. But the Saints became a Park Avenue pariah in 2012, due to the bounty scandal. And if there’s open animosity toward one team, it can permeate various departments and functions, eventually (and potentially) infecting the officiating department in a very specific way — the game officials might have looked the other way when the Saints’ opponents committed fouls.
The sense that the odds were stacked against him wore on Payton.
“I got tired,” Payton told Wickersham. “There was a feeling, I would say on my part, of losing the jump balls in this game. You know? Success or lack of success with the Saints is a blip on the NFL.”
In some ways, Payton’s comments about Goodell and the league office are even more surprising than his prior remarks to Jarrett Bell of USA Today about former Broncos coach Nathanial Hackett and his current team, the Jets. The things Payton said to Bell can affect the Broncos in one game, Week 5 againt the Jets; the things Payton said to Wickersham can affect the Broncos in all of them.
Or maybe it was just a warning shot. A message to the league office and the officials that if the trend from Payton’s last four years with the Saints carries over to the Broncos, Payton will call it out. And the league, in an era of legalized gambling, will have a huge mess on its hands if the numbers suddenly show that the Broncos benefit from the least fouls called against their opponents of all or most other teams.
Regardless, Payton’s remarks show a lot of nerve. It will be interesting to see if Goodell responds. It also will be interesting to see if we ever hear about what the response was.