Sean Payton is heading to the Denver Broncos as the franchise's next head coach, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones, after Denver reportedly acquire his contractual rights from the New Orleans Saints. The Saints and Broncos have finalized trade compensation for head coach Sean Payton, according to ESPN, paving the way for the Super Bowl champion head coach to become Denver's next head coach.
Denver sends its 2023 first-round pick from San Francisco (No. 30 overall) and a 2024 second-round pick to New Orleans for Payton and its 2024 third-round pick, according to Adam Schefter. The first-round pick being sent by Denver is actually the one acquired from the Dolphins in exchange for linebacker Bradley Chubb. Miami acquired the pick initially from the 49ers as part of the Trey Lance deal. The Dolphins no longer have a first-round pick in 2023 after their own was forfeited as a result of the Tom Brady tampering investigation. Now, Denver joins Miami as a team lacking a first-round pick in the upcoming draft since they sent their own first-rounder as part of larger deal to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson.
Payton, 59, last coached for the Saints in 2021 but remains under contract, which is why a trade needed to be completed. With the Saints, he became the winningest coach in franchise history with a 152-89 record (.631 winning percentage) and a 9-8 record in the playoffs. New Orleans had one playoff win in team history before Payton's arrival. The Saints reached the mountaintop in Super Bowl XLIV, their only championship in team history under Payton's leadership. With him and predominantly future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints attack ranked second in points per game (27.5), first in total yards per game (391.4), first in third-down conversion rate (45.4%) and first red zone conversion rate (61.1%) from 2006-2021. Those ranks exclude the 2012 season in which Payton was suspended for the team's Bountygate scandal.
This trade and hire of Payton came in large part because Russell Wilson struggled mightily in his first season as a Bronco. He completed only 60% of his passes for 16 passing scores, 11 interceptions and an 84.4 passer rating. Those all ranked 25th or worse across the league. Wilson went 4-11 as a starter, which led to first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett being fired before the conclusion of the 2022 season. The Broncos averaged 16.9 points per game in 2022, the lowest in the entire league.
Here's the total compensation the Broncos have parted with to make Russell Wilson their franchise quarterback -- the team signed him to a five-year, $245 million extension before he took a regular season snap with the team -- and Sean Payton their newest head coach. Here's the Broncos' total haul for both Russell Wilson and Sean Payton:
Three first-round picks
Three second-round picks
2022 5th-round pick
QB Drew Lock
TE Noah Fant
DL Shelby Harris
QB Russell Wilson
HC Sean Payton
2022 fourth-round pick
2024 third-round pick
Below are trade grades for both the Broncos and Saints on the deal that sent Payton to Mile High. The Broncos will be graded on a curve because of their significant investment in Russell Wilson.
Sean Payton trade grades
New Orleans coming away with a first-round pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft AND a 2024 second-round pick for its best head coach in team history is an absolute steal. Payton retired/resigned as the Saints' head coach following the 2021 season after looking around the room and realizing life in New Orleans wasn't as rosy without Drew Brees. Normally, a team trying to trade a disgruntled star player under contract leads to a lower return than the team parting with the star would've hoped. Yet the Saints were able to coerce the Broncos into parting with two top-round picks anyways because of their desperation. Phenomenal job by Saints general manager Mickey Loomis.
New Orleans will now be able to participate in the first round of the upcoming draft after it traded away its own pick to the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago. This trade doesn't completely fix that mistake since this pick will be at the back end of the first round instead of the top 10 like their own pick would have been, but Loomis got within the ballpark of what he could have hoped for when parting with someone who no longer wanted to be a part of the franchise despite not having a crazy amount of leverage.
This grade comes with the acknowledgement that the franchise has tied themselves to Russell Wilson for better or worse with the trade and contract extension they made for him.
This was a trade and hire Denver had to make considering its heavy investment in Wilson. The Broncos gave the declining quarterback $165 million in guaranteed money, including $124 million at the signing of his five-year, $245 million extension, according to OverTheCap.com. General manager George Paton needs Wilson to return to form after he had the worst year of his career in 2022 since new ownership who didn't hire him now runs the show. While schematically Payton's up-tempo, quick passing offense that featured Drew Brees reading defenses almost exclusively from the pocket is a contrast from Wilson's best strength over the course of his career, his ability to create outside of the pocket, the Broncos had to go get the coach who has had the most success with a shorter quarterback in NFL history.
Normally giving up this type of haul for someone who isn't even an active player would be somewhere in the B- to C range, but the Broncos get a B+ because they were able to complete a deal that positions Wilson to have the best chance at a career revival. If Wilson can't rebound with Payton as his head coach and play-caller, that's an indictment on the quarterback. The Broncos' front office and ownership group can sleep soundly at night knowing they did everything in their power to succeed with Russell Wilson and make good on their heavy-handed investment in him.