Sources told ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen that the 49ers and Eagles are expected to explore the potential of hiring Payton if the Saints make him available. Payton has two years remaining on his contract, so teams hoping to hire him will have to work out a compensation arrangement with the Saints.
The 49ers fired first-year coach Jim Tomsula on Sunday night, and the Eagles fired coach Chip Kelly last week. The Eagles will interview interim coach Pat Shurmur on Monday and Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase on Tuesday, according to Mortensen.
"We've got the players in tomorrow, we've gotta evaluate the roster, we've got a lot of things we've got to do. If I feel the need to get you an itinerary, I will," said Payton, who then cut off an attempted follow-up question.
"That's the answer. That's the answer. That's the answer," he said. "You with me? I can't be more clear."
The reality, however, is Payton's future is decidedly unclear.
Schefter reported Sunday that other teams believe the Saints will grant Payton permission to speak with them about head-coaching vacancies this week. Schefter and FOX's Jay Glazer, who is close with Payton, both reported that Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are expected to meet this week to discuss options, and the decision could come down to the compensation other teams are willing to offer to pry Payton away.
Even quarterback Drew Brees, who said earlier this week that he expects Payton back in 2016, spoke with more uncertainty after Sunday's game.
"I hope so," Brees said of the possibility that Payton returns. "I don't know the future. Nobody does. But I know that any time the season ends, there's lots of question marks. So I guess we'll have to wait and see. But I certainly hope he does."
When asked if a possible Payton departure would dampen his enthusiasm for the team's direction or affect his desire to return in 2016, Brees said, "Listen, I want to be here. I want to play for the Saints. I don't want to play for anybody else, but there's no reason to talk about it until we all know for certain."
Also using the word "hope" when expressing desire for Payton to stay were other Saints players, including cornerback Delvin Breaux and safety Kenny Vaccaro, who told the New Orleans Advocate, "He's a brilliant coach, and we need him here."
Others deflected the question entirely and said they can only control what they can control.
Veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief, meanwhile, expressed confidence that Payton will stay in New Orleans.
"I think guys that haven't been around have a much stronger curiosity than I do," Strief said. "My opinion is that him and Drew are gonna stay here until they're deciding almost together, like, 'OK, we've gone far enough.' I think they both appreciate the relationship they have and the situation they have here.
"There's nobody sitting around or assistant coaching or coaching right now in the NFL that's a better fit for this program, organization, city than Coach Payton. I believe that very strongly. I think him and Mickey's relationship is special. I think him and Drew's relationship is special, and I think this thing is going in the right direction."
Payton has said multiple times in the past that I "see myself" staying in New Orleans, where he recently built a new home. But he has never completely squashed the idea of moving on.
What remains to be seen is if Payton finds a team and situation more favorable than his current ones -- and whether that team is willing to pay enough to get him. It's hard to predict what will be required to pry Payton loose, considering history has provided a wide variety of comparables.
Jon Gruden fetched two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million in cash when he was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Herm Edwards cost only a fourth-round pick when he was traded from the New York Jets to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.