The Denver Broncos franchise became the home of the NFL's wealthiest ownership group, the Walton-Penner family of Walmart fame, back in August, and now according to multiple reports, it appears they could soon become the home of arguably the most sought-after coach of the current hiring cycle, Sean Payton. The Broncos are in very strong position to be able to acquire and sign the former Super Bowl champion head coach of the New Orleans Saints, according to a report by the Washington Post on Wednesday.
NFL Media reported the same on Tuesday with Tom Pelissero saying on The Insiders, "It sure seems like, though, if Sean Payton is going to take a job in this cycle, everything is lining up for Denver."
Payton, currently an NFL analyst for Fox Sports, has said on multiple occasions that one of the things he values in an NFL head coaching situation is working with stable ownership, something Denver has now. According to The Advocate, Payton is seeking a contract that pays him $20 million to $25 million per year over a four-year period. Coaching salaries are not public, but it's believed that salary would make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league, and the Broncos' new ownership group could certainly afford that type of salary.
The Saints still hold the contractual rights to Payton, and any team that hires him will have to create a trade package to send to New Orleans. The last NFL coaching trade took place in 2006, when the Kansas City Chiefs sent the New York Jets a fourth-round pick for Herm Edwards.
"Denver's the first team, and I was able to have a conversation with their owner -- and that's kind of the protocol," Payton said on Fox. "So it'll go team to Saints, and then the interview process can't officially begin until the 17th of this month. ... So that's really where it's at."
With Payton now available to interview in person, he has armed himself with the information any team interested in hiring him will want to know: the price. Payton, an NFL analyst for Fox Sports this season, said on "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd that he has had conversations with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and that the trade compensation required to get him will be "."
The Broncos have that type of pick, as they acquired the San Francisco 49ers' 2023 first-round pick through a trade with the Miami Dolphins that sent linebacker Bradley Chubb to South Beach. The Dolphins acquired that pick as part of the 49ers' leap from the 12th overall pick to the third overall pick in the 2021 draft to select quarterback Trey Lance.
However, if Payton does become the next Broncos head coach, he has to be willing to work with quarterback Russell Wilson since one of the first things the new ownership did was sign the 34-year-old passer to a five-year, $245 million contract extension days before the start of the 2022 season. Since Wilson had two years remaining on his existing deal, he is tied to Denver through the 2028 season when he will be 40 years old.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound quarterback had career-lows in completion percentage (60.%), passing touchdowns (16), and passer rating (84.4) while be sacked a career-high 55 times, the most in the NFL this season. Wilson's 482 sacks taken in his 11-season career are the most in any player's first 11 seasons since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger when sacks taken became an official statistic. For context, the player with the second-most sacks taken through their first 11 seasons is four-time Pro Bowler Randall Cunningham's 422, 60 fewer than Wilson. Cunningham only started eight or more games in a season once in the final six seasons of his career after the age of 32.
"You correct flaws immediately, and then we don't worry about how long the process is going to take," Payton said on Fox when asked about what a coach should do to fix Wilson after he had the worst season of his career. "In other words, I'd want a cut-up today of all of Russell's pass plays of 30 or more yards from the field and I'd want to see, 'Are there some schemes that he felt very comfortable with?'"
Payton also said he'd take a close look at what made Wilson successful in Seattle.
"I know that they did a great job in Seattle of bringing him off of a naked-boot and then pulling up," Payton said. "And then we all saw that throw back to Tyler Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air."
It's not clear which specific throw Payton is referring to, but Wilson did connect with Lockett for a TD pass that traveled roughly 60 yards in the air during Week 1 of the 2021 season.
Payton would also do his homework on Wilson's red zone abilities since you can't just consistently rely on the long ball in the NFL,
"I'd want to look at another film of his red zone touchdown passes inside the 20," Payton said. "What I'm asking for from assistants is, I'm asking for some of his greatest hits, and to make sure that we have those song lyrics available, and if not, let's put them in."
If Payton does take the Broncos job, this provides an idea of how he would start rebuilding the offense.
During his time in New Orleans, Payton's offense was one of the NFL's best thanks to Drew Brees, who while similar in stature to Wilson, was stylistically a very different player. Brees made quick decisions while throwing almost exclusively from the pocket, whereas Wilson's signature strength over the years has been his ability to roll out and make plays after an extended amount of time outside of the pocket. That could be enough to keep Payton away from Denver. On the other hand, it's possible Payton might see a QB in Wilson who can be repaired and molded into a quarterback who can run Payton's offense.
Speaking of Wilson, he seems pretty excited at possibility of teaming up with Payton.
"I've been around Sean, obviously at the Pro Bowl," Wilson said after Denver's Week 18 win over the Chargers, via Broncoswire. "I've been around him across the league and I've played against them quite a bit. He's one of the world's best, obviously, a guy who has coached a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, who was one of my closest friends and the guy that got to know across the league and so many other great players."
Wilson definitely seems on board with a potential Payton hire, but no one knows for sure if Payton feels the same way. The former Saints coach certainly isn't going to sign on to a situation where he thinks he might fail, which is why it will be interesting to see if he ends up taking the Broncos job.
ESPN reports that the Broncos and Saints do not have to agree to trade compensation at this juncture. Those talks would happen later if the conversations between Denver and Payton go well.
Payton stepped down from his role as head coach of the Saints last January, but many believe he is ready to return to the sidelines in 2023. The Super Bowl XLIV champion holds a 152-89 regular-season record, and a 9-8 postseason record in 15 seasons coached.
According to CBS Sports NFL insider Josina Anderson, Payton has a high affinity for the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys jobs, with the Arizona Cardinals being in consideration as well should that job open up. Anderson reported last month that Payton will probably listen if the Broncos call, but historically, he's preferred a strong link to the general manager.