The Panthers are the latest team to enter the Sean Payton sweepstakes.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Carolina has received permission from the New Orleans Saints to interview Payton for its vacant head coaching job, per a source.
The Panthers join the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans as teams set to interview the Super Bowl-winning coach this offseason. In-person interviews between HC candidates and teams are allowed starting on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
After walking away from the Saints following the 2021 season, Payton, 59, spent the 2022 season as an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. However, Payton's contract with New Orleans, which doesn't expire until after the 2024 season, will require compensation from any team seeking to acquire his services in 2023.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis announced on Friday that the team will retain Dennis Allen for a second season, clearing a path toward New Orleans getting a return on the franchise's all-time winningest coach.
"We haven't settled on exactly what the compensation is going to be yet," Loomis said. "They're well aware that there is going to be compensation."
Carolina fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start to the 2022 season. Interim HC Steve Wilks righted Carolina's ship, leading the team to 6-6 record and kept the Panthers in the running for the NFC South title up until Week 17.
Wilks has already completed an interview for the Panthers head coaching job, along with veteran coach Jim Caldwell and former Colts coach Frank Reich. Payton is the 12th coach on the Panthers' radar so far during this hiring cycle.
New Orleans allowing a division rival to interview Payton is an interesting caveat to the Panthers' search, but they will likely have to sweeten the deal in order to make him a future Saints foe.