PHOENIX – Sean Payton came way early, like first-coach-in-the-room early, for the traditional NFL coaches breakfast session with the media on Tuesday morning.
He wasn’t there to get first dibs on scrambled eggs.
The New Orleans Saints coach undoubtedly showed up 20 minutes before the appointed hour because he wanted to get a certain message off his chest.
Go ahead, Sean, express yourself.
“At some point they are going to have to have an official who has the same views that the fan has,” said Payton, who by multiple accounts has been among the most passionate proponents of expanding instant replay in the closed-door meetings coaches have had this week to discuss rules.
You can guess it: Payton is pushing for an eighth official, a so-called “sky judge” who can use video from a booth upstairs to correct the type of egregious calls – or non-calls that marred the NFC title game and cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.
“It’s going to have to happen,” Payton added. “Because right now, our fans are capturing better angles than the officials.”
The sky judge concept, in use in the new Alliance of American Football (AAF), has sparked some heated debate during the NFL meetings this week. That’s on top of the typical division among team owners regarding anything that has to do with replay.
As of Tuesday morning, it was unclear whether any of several replay measures under consideration would get enough support to pass – and it was clear that without any single proposal carrying a consensus, it was increasingly possible that there might not even be enough momentum to even conduct a vote.
One proposal that seemingly stands a chance involved expanding replay to cover pass interference and roughing the passer cases. Yet even with that, there’s debate on whether plays where flags were not thrown would be reviewable.
Yes, owners could pass a rule that still wouldn’t prevent another instance like we saw in the NFC title game, when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman wasn’t penalized for pass interference when he crashed into Tommylee Lewis to break up a third-down pass in the final two minutes.
“I don’t think we’d have any of these (proposals) on the docket had it not been for one play,” Payton said. “I don’t think we’d be sitting here on a replay discussion.”
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who in the past has proposed allowing any type of play be subject to a replay review, publicly praised Payton and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin – the only two coaches included on the league’s eight-member competition committee – for their leadership efforts in the coaches’ meetings. Earlier in the week, as I chatted with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, Belichick stopped to commend Garrett for his input in the discussions. Garrett is a member of the coaches subcommittee for the competition committee.
It seems evident that many of the coaches are bonded by the idea of significantly improving instant replay – one head coach insisted to USA TODAY that the vote pass 32-0 if coaches were polled on the sky judge concept.
Of course, it’s the owners who actually vote. And there’s a long history of owners not always agreeing with their coaches on matters of rules changes.
At least the voices of the coaches are being heard. Again.
“I think we need to do a better job, thinking forward, and preparing, regardless of where we currently are,” Payton said, mulling the future of the league. “Where do we want to be in 2028?”
Payton said that forward-thinking mindset is used in other areas of operating the NFL, and he’d like to see it applied to the officiating issues.
Yet he was also bracing himself for the chance that the significant change may not come out of these meetings, with votes possibly to be conducted Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Change will come,” Payton predicted. “It’s just a little bit slower.”
In the meantime, the eggs are up – and poised to be displayed on the face of the NFL if it doesn’t find a solution to correct the worst of the blown calls.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.