The most likely scenario is the Saints will play in the Superdome next year.
The most frustrating thing about being a New Orleans Saints fan these past few years is that everything has been the same every year. The Saints are always pretty good on offense and have a good quarterback, but are always (2009 and 2013 excepted) terrible on defense. The particulars change — Steve Spagnuolo becomes Rob Ryan becomes Dennis Allen; Corey White becomes Brandon Browner; and so on. But the larger story remains the same.
It's pretty tiring. If it's finally going to change, here's what needs to happen — and what'll probably happen.
1. Have Sean Payton replace the entire defensive coaching staff
The best option, given Sean Payton's exceptional abilities as an offensive coach, would be to keep a Payton who is willing to do whatever it takes to finally fix a defense that has always been broken. He's changed coordinators and, between 2012 and 2015, replaced almost every player, but somehow the defense has only gotten worse.
The constant factor is the set of coaches closest to Payton, most of whom are on the defensive side of the ball. Coaches like Joe Vitt and Dennis Allen and Bill Johnson have presided over repeating disasters. Earlier this year, Payton said: "You can't keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results." He's right.
Leaving the old guard in charge of his defense would absolutely qualify as doing the same thing again, though. It would be difficult to sever the long professional relationships Payton has with men like Vitt, but at this point there seems to be no better option.
Should it happen? Yes.
Will it happen? Almost certainly not.
2. Replace Payton, but maintain continuity on offense
In 2012, the Saints scored 461 points, which all but matched the number of points they scored in 2008 (463) and is exceeded significantly only by the 510 and 547 they scored in 2009 and 2011, respectively. That's a short way to say the Saints had a really good offense in 2012, with Drew Brees at quarterback under the watch of offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and Payton on leave.
They've done it before, so there's no reason they can't have a good offense with Brees and Carmichael calling the shots.
Those rumors about the Saints being open to trading Sean Payton
won't go away. At this point there's so much smoke that it qualifies as evidence of fire. If Payton is okay with leaving, and if he refuses to make necessary changes to his defensive staff, the next-best option is probably to let him go, pick up as much compensation as possible, and then hire a defensive-minded head coach who promises to keep intact the Carmichael/Brees offensive machine, at least until Brees retires, while bringing his own defensive staff into town.
Should it happen? Probably not, but it sure would be interesting.
Will it happen? Trading Payton seems like a significant possibility, but it's tough to see a new coach leaving the Saints' offense alone.
3. Fire everyone
One way to end the annual rerun is to just call it quits on the whole Payton/Brees (and maybe even Loomis) thing and reboot the franchise. New coach, new quarterback, new structure on the football personnel side.
The Saints are already just about at rock bottom, so what's another year of total rebuilding? They could trade both Payton and Brees for draft picks and take their chances on the open market.
The downside? Most quarterbacks and NFL coaches aren't particularly good, don't enjoy much success, and more than anything else are generally uninteresting. Sean Payton's often good for chaotic theater, if nothing else, and while he seems to have lost a certain edge he once had in favor of becoming more conventional, he's still less
conventional than the average NFL good ol' boy.
The problem with a complete overhaul is chances are the devil you don't know is a lot worse than the ones you do.
Should it happen? No.
Will it happen? Probably not.
4. Stand pat
Of course, the Saints could always just tinker with the team again — add players as they can, continue to develop talent on the roster, maybe change defensive coordinators for the umpteenth time.
In this scenario, Sean Payton returns. Probably Dennis Allen returns. Drew Brees returns. The Saints keep doing what they've done, betting on the fact that they do have a little bit of youth and potential on both sides of the ball. Maybe next year linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha will grow into stars. Maybe cornerback Delvin Breaux will be healthy all year, and maybe he'll have somebody other than Brandon Browner across from him.
Maybe things will get better. But if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, why would you expect them to?
Should it happen? No.
Will it happen. Most likely.