ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos reached an agreement Tuesday with the New Orleans Saints and Sean Payton, who will fill the Broncos' head coaching vacancy, a source confirmed to 9NEWS.
The selection of Payton ends a long and meticulous search that had its share of unexpected twists and turns, but ultimately Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner believes he got his guy.
For what the Broncos need – a leader who knows how to establish a winning culture, and more specifically a reboot for quarterback Russell Wilson – it’s easy to argue Payton was the best candidate in this year’s coaching cycle.
He was also the Broncos' most complicated and costly candidate.
Because he was under contract with New Orleans through the 2024 season, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had the right to seek compensation in return.
According to a source, the Saints initially asked for what Tampa Bay gave to Oakland in return for head coach Jon Gruden in 2002 -- two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. No way the Broncos were going there after they had already surrendered two first-round picks and two second-round picks last year for Russell Wilson.
The Saints moved on to the Bill Parcells deal in 1997, when the Jets traded New England a first, second, third and fourth-round picks over two years for the coach who was Sean Payton's mentor. Still too much.
Those proposals, though, were like melting ice cubes. The longer time went on and the Broncos had other options like Jim Harbaugh and DeMeco Ryans, the Saints risked getting nothing in return for Payton, who could have returned to the NFL FOX studios.
It took a while but the Broncos eventually negotiated the price down although Sean Payton was still expensive. The Broncos surrendered their first-round draft pick, No. 29 overall, plus their second-round pick in 2024 to the Saints in exchange for Sean Payton and New Orleans' third-round in 2024.
Then again, the Broncos acquired that No. 29 overall draft pick in midseason from Miami in exchange for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.
The paramaters of Payton's contract had been agreed to although details were still being worked out as of Tuesday evening. Payton was expected to receive a contract of at least five years worth somewhere between $17 million and $20 million a year.
Besides leading the Saints to a Super Bowl title by defeating Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts to cap the 2009 season, the most impressive accomplishment on Sean Payton's coaching resume is how he immediately turned around a woeful Saints' teamin 2006. The previous year, 2005, the city of New Orleans was in the throes of Hurricane Katrina disaster while the Saints finished that season with a 3-13 record under coach Jim Haslett.
The next year, the Saints hired Payton as head coach and signed free-agent, former Charger quarterback Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million deal. In Payton's first season the Saints went 10-6 and won a playoff game. It was the first of 10 winning seasons Payton had in his 15 seasons with New Orleans.
With Payton calling the plays, the Saints ranked No. 1 in total offense in six seasons and ranked among the top 9 in 13 seasons. Brees wound up setting the NFL's all-time records in touchdown passes (571) and passing yards (80,358) before his retirment following the 2020 season, although Tom Brady has since shattered both marks.
Sans Brees in 2021, Payton guided the Saints to a 9-8 record, although they ranked No. 28 in total offense. Payton then took a year off from coaching last year, working instead as an NFL FOX studio analyst.
The smear on his coaching resume was the 2012 season, when he was suspended for the year because of the Bountygate scandal. The NFL alleged Saints players were paid bonuses for taking out certain opposing players. The league ruled it was defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who carried out the program and Payton tried to cover it up.
The Saints went 13-3 the year before Payton was suspended, 7-9 without him in 2012 and 11-5 upon his return in 2013.
The Broncos' head coaching search began Dec. 26, when Penner fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett with two games left in the season and the Broncos possessing a disappointing 4-11 record that was stamped with a humiliating 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day.
Coaching consultant Jerry Rosburg became the Broncos' interim head coach for the final two games, after defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero declined the opportunity to immediately replace his best friend, Hackett.
Penner then brought in fellow owner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton to help him interview eight head coach candidates.
Their first interview was Jan. 9 with University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Penner, Rice and Paton then interviewed seven other candidates in person:
- The Broncos' own defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero on Jan. 10
- Former Stanford head coach David Shaw on Jan. 11
- Former Lions and Colts' head coach Jim Caldwell on Jan. 11
- Former Saints head coach Sean Payton on Jan. 17
- Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris on Jan. 17
- San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans on Jan. 19
- Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Jan. 20
Each interview lasted a little more than two hours. Penner and Paton also held a state-of-the-team debriefing session with Rosburg, as his customary between the head coach and bosses at season's end. But it was not a head coach interview, per se.
Penner, Paton and Rice kept in contact with the eight candidates after their interviews. While the Broncos discussed opening the search at one point to consider other candidates, they primarily stuck to the eight on their list.
Penner, his wife Carrie and father-in-law Rob Walton -- the Broncos' controlling owner -- interviewed Sean Payton by Zoom late last week. The hiring comes more than five weeks after Hackett was fired. Perhaps, the search might have lasted a week or two longer than expected but then again, it took a little more time to work out a trade with the Saints.
At various points during their search, the Broncos had Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans as their top candidate -- with Payton lurking with those draft picks attached. Harbaugh twice told the Broncos he was staying at Michigan and Ryans' wife is from Houston, where he landed Tuesday with the Texans,.
Apparently, settling on a new head coach is never easy, no matter how much practice a team has. The Broncos' new head coach is the team's sixth head coach in 10 seasons, following John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Hackett in that span.
The Broncos are coming off their sixth consecutive losing season and seventh without a postseason berth.
Once the contract details are worked out, Sean Payton will be busy assembling his staff. He is expected to be flown in to Denver and visit Broncos headquarters on Wednesday or Thursday with the introductiory press conference perhaps not happening until Monday.
Payton has been connected with former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator, but team management also would like to keep Ejiro Evero, who is under contract for at least one more season. Ultimately, it will be Payton's call. Also under consideration: Does Fango want to return to Denver just one year after he was fired as head coach and does Evero want to return after his best friend Hackett was dismissed before finishing his first season as head coach?
Joe Lombardi, a longtime QB coach for Payton in New Orleans, is available after he was recently fired as the Chargers' offensive coordinator.
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