Scooter Hobbs column: Colleges could take page from NFL compensation

Published 10:00 am Friday, January 20, 2023

This will be somewhat farcical, but play along with me here anyway. Just for a minute.

For once, maybe the NFL has something that perhaps the college game could take a hint from. Maybe run with it.

It comes to mind as Sean Payton, apparently scratching the itch to coach again, sniffs around checking the landscape, looking for some NFL team with a spare whistle. And deep pockets.

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Never mind that Payton is still under contract through the 2024 season with the Saints.

It can get done.

It happens all the time in big-time college football, of course, usually with a suddenly in-demand coach working his way up the food chain.

He may have just signed a 10-year contract at the school he just turned into a winner to become such a hot shot, but it’s no problem.

Or, rather, it’s only money — generally referred to as a “buyout,” payable from his new school to the school he’s fleeing.

It’s the side of the buyout you don’t hear as much about, what with the ones collected by fired head coaches hogging the headlines.

The way this generally works, however, is that the school that hires him convenes a meeting of fat-cat alums who pony up to pay off the new coach’s previous buyout before passing the hat again to overpay the incoming coach.

The school he abandoned gets some cash so it can turn around and overpay a new coach itself, probably with a 10-year contract that makes no sense.

No one has ever proved that it’s a collegiate Ponzi scheme, but …

Anyway, the way it works in the NFL is what’s happening with Payton’s window shopping.

For some odd reason — certainly not production by Dennis Allen’s first-year stint — the Saints don’t have an opening at head coach.

Or maybe Payton is not interested in a return to New Orleans, even though he and General Manager Mickey Loomis were quite a team.

But whichever team lands Payton is going to have to deal with the two years remaining on his Saints contract.

Some team will owe the Saints. Given the interest in Payton, it will probably owe a lot.

The NFL doesn’t generally deal in cash money for team-to-team negotiations. But draft picks in the NFL are like cigarettes in prison.

So as soon as some team gets a preliminary agreement with Payton, it will have to negotiate with Loomis about how many draft picks would be a square deal.

The NFL doesn’t have a formula for it. It’s up to the two teams to work it out, no different, really, than a trade.

Jeff Duncan of, who knows more about the NFL and the Saints than you or me or any of us, writes that Payton might be worth as much as two first-round picks (this year and next, perhaps), maybe with a couple or three lower-round picks thrown in as a sweetener.

The Saints don’t have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

They can nix any deal if they don’t get what they want — tempered by the risk of Payton just biding his time until that contract runs out after next season and he’s a free agent.

I guess my question to Saints fans would be this: Would you rather have the windfall of draft picks, or Payton back in the Superdome?

Evidently the latter is not going to happen.

But back to the original fantasy.

Colleges don’t have draft picks to barter — not yet, anyway, but give them time as they further emulate the NFL.

So what if, say, when Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for LSU, the Tigers had to give up — just scatter shooting here — a couple of five-star recruits to complete the deal in lieu of the buyout?

NIL would likely be involved too.

Crazy, sure. But don’t scoff too loud. The college game seems intent on getting there.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at