The Broncos are close to finalizing a deal with the New Orleans that will put former Saints head coach Sean Payton in line to be their next head coach, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Post on Tuesday afternoon.
The Broncos are sending New Orleans this year’s first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick for Payton and New Orleans’ 2024 third-rounder, the sources confirmed.
Payton’s impending hire as the 19th full-time head coach in Denver’s history represents a seismic move in the NFL’s coaching landscape.
In order to negotiate a contract with Payton, who is under contract with the Saints through 2024, Denver must first agree to trade terms with the Saints. ESPN reported the Broncos and New Orleans have discussed two trade packages with New Orleans, one built around their 2023 first-round pick and another around their 2024 first-round pick.
Payton interviewed with Broncos CEO Greg Penner, general manager George Paton and limited shareholder Condoleezza Rice in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 17 after having an initial conversation with Penner earlier in the month. They did not conduct a formal second interview, but sources say the sides kept in touch throughout the process as Payton visited Carolina and Arizona for interviews and Denver worked through other hiring options including San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Penner said on Dec. 27, the day after Nathaniel Hackett was fired, that he and his staff planned to be aggressive in the search and that, “We think we can find a great head coach for this organization.”
Certainly, they found an accomplished coach.
Payton’s return to the sideline in 2023 will put him sixth among active coaches in wins at 153, behind only Bill Belichick (New England), Andy Reid (Kansas City), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Pete Carroll (Seattle) and Mike McCarthy (Dallas).
He led New Orleans to a Super Bowl championship in Feb. 2010 and had the Saints in the playoffs nine times in his 15 seasons with the organization. Payton and the Saints won the NFC South seven times during his time there and he owns a career postseason mark of 9-8. Outside the Super Bowl season, his Saints teams lost in the NFC championship game twice, the divisional round four times and the wild card round twice.
They won the division four consecutive years from 2017-20 before going 9-8 and missing the playoffs in his final season before resigning. That deep playoff experience is part of Payton’s allure, as is his reputation as one of the game’s brightest offensive minds.
The Saints led the NFL in scoring twice under Payton, finished in the top three seven times and cracked the top 10 in 11 of his 15 seasons in charge. They never finished lower than 11th in scoring until 2021 (19th).
Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006, the same year the franchise traded for quarterback Drew Brees. The quarterback had already made the Pro Bowl once during his time in San Diego but blossomed into a Hall of Famer over his 15-year run with Payton in New Orleans.
Now, Payton will try to help Denver quarterback Russell Wilson find a new gear in his 12th professional season. Wilson, traded to Denver in March after a decade in Seattle, is coming off the worst season of his career. He also has made no secret about the fact that he holds Payton in high regard. Wilson’s agent in 2021, a year before he ended up in Denver, told ESPN the quarterback would waive his no-trade clause to four teams. New Orleans made that list.
Then, after the Broncos’ 2022 season finale, Wilson spoke glowingly of Payton.
“I’ve been around Sean at the Pro Bowl, been around him across the league, played against him quite a bit. He’s one of the world’s best. A guy who’s coached a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, who is one of my closest friends,” Wilson said. “… He’s competitive as can be. He’s a winner – obviously, he’s won a Super Bowl – a winner at the highest level. Being around him at the Pro Bowl, the wizardry he’d have on the field was just magnificent.”
One of the questions from here is what style of offense Payton will want to run with Wilson. What he did in New Orleans with Brees is substantially different from the under center, play-action pass and wide zone run game the Broncos found some success with late in the 2022 season and that Wilson said started to feel like a burgeoning offensive identity.
Payton, though, is also keenly aware that what worked in the past for Brees may not work in the future for Wilson.
In October, Payton provided insight into how he’d try to get Wilson on track after what at the time was a slow start to the 2022 season.
“I’d want cut-ups today of all Russell’s past plays of 30 or more yards from the field and I’d want to see if, are there some schemes that he felt very comfortable with,” Payton said. “For instance, I know in Seattle they did a great job of bringing him off of a naked boot and then pulling up. That throwback to (Tyler) Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air. Then I’d want another film of his red zone touchdown passes inside the 20. 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.
“If not, let’s put them in.”
Payton has been a part of his share of controversy in New Orleans. He was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his role in the Bounty Gate scandal, when the Saints defensive coaching staff was paying players for knocking opposing players out of games. The Miami Dolphins were also fined and stripped of draft picks last year for tampering with Payton without the Saints’ consent.
That hardly cooled interest in the San Mateo, California native once he decided he wanted to explore a return to coaching. Payton could have returned to the FOX studio and continued doing television for another year, waiting to see which jobs opened after the 2023 NFL season.
Instead, the Broncos swooped in, pursued the veteran head coach and now are on the verge of ensuring he lands in the Front Range.