The 2022 NFL season has been a strange one for a lot of reasons. Some teams are performing well above expectations, others are performing well below them, and several longtime stars such as Ben Roethlisberger and Rob Gronkowski have moved on from football. Though, arguably the strangest sight is not seeing Sean Payton on the New Orleans Saints' sideline.

Payton, who coached the Saints from 2006 to 2021, retired at the end of last season to join FOX's broadcast crew. Although he isn't coaching this season, Payton has hinted at a potential return next season on multiple occasions. In fact, Payton spoke earlier this year on the NewOrleans.Football podcast about what it would take to get him back into coaching.

“The most important element is functional ownership, front office…because there’s a handful of teams that aren’t, and those teams, regardless of what takes place, they can win on Sunday but they have trouble winning long term,” Sean Payton said. “The opportunity to win consistently and the willingness to build the correct culture and all those things.”

The most natural fit would be a return to New Orleans, but there are a couple of snags. The Saints have no first-round pick in 2023, no clear answer at quarterback and another horrific cap crunch this offseason. Payton would surely love to return to his old team, but if he wants to win, then he may need to consider other options.

However, New Orleans still plays a very important role in where Payton could end up. The Saints hold Payton's rights through the 2024 season, and any team eyeing him will have to go through them. The Miami Dolphins found this out the hard way, as their tampering with Payton led to them losing picks and owner Stephen Ross receiving a six-game suspension.

So what teams could provide the right fit for Payton? Let's take a look at three potential suitors who can do just that.

3. Carolina Panthers

OK, let's get the obvious problems with this one out of the way first. The chance of the Saints allowing Sean Payton to go to a division rival is very slim, if there's any at all. Carolina is also in the midst of a rebuild, which Payton may not want to deal with when coming out of retirement.

That is a lot to overcome, but a deeper look shows that there's some potential here. Carolina does have some intriguing young pieces on the roster, including DJ Moore, Ikem Ekwonu and Brian Burns. Panthers owner David Tepper has also been very aggressive, and he may want a proven coach after Matt Rhule flopped.

The Panthers also don't have a clear answer at quarterback, as no one on the roster looks like a long-term fit. However, the Panthers are in great position to get a top draft pick and land CJ Stroud or Bryce Young. If Payton wants his own quarterback to develop, Carolina may be a viable landing spot.

2. Dallas Cowboys

Before Sean Payton became the head coach of the Saints, he spent three years as an assistant with the Cowboys. He began as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach in 2003, and became the passing game coordinator in 2005. His familiarity with the Cowboys might be enough of a draw for the coach.

Another drawing factor is the amount of talent on Dallas' roster. The Cowboys have a strong and well-balanced roster that includes a proven quarterback in Dak Prescott and one of the league's best defenders in Micah Parsons. If Payton wants to win right away, the Cowboys may just have the best roster for him.

So what's the snag with this fit? Well, there's no certainty that the Cowboys will have a coaching vacancy, as they are 6-3 and in prime playoff position. Mike McCarthy and his staff have done a great job this season, but the playoffs are what really matter.

If Dallas bows out of the postseason early again, Jerry Jones might start looking for a new coach. In that case, a Super Bowl-winning coach who knows the Cowboys well would be a home run of a hire.

1. Los Angeles Chargers

Sean Payton and the Chargers are a match made in Heaven. Los Angeles has one of the best overall rosters in the league, with stars at nearly every position on both sides of the ball. Particularly on offense, Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler are among the best at their positions, and an offensive mind like Payton would help them unlock their true potential.

Despite having a winning record, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has come under fire for his decision-making. The Chargers are 5-4 right now, and they would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today. With how tough the AFC is, and LA's ever-present injury woes, there's no guarantee the Chargers make the playoffs.

LA seems to always be a team that has sky-high potential, but can never put it all together. Payton could be just the man to help take the Chargers over the top. If they decide to move on from Staley, the Chargers need to do everything they can to get Payton.