DENVER — The Broncos ownership group plans to begin interviewing finalists for the vacant coaching position this week, and Sean Payton brings the best resume and most experience.
Broncos CEO Greg Penner has not tipped his hand as to a favorite, but many in the NFL believe Payton has the inside track to the job.
According to NOLA.com, Payton plans to fly to Denver on Wednesday night or Thursday in "anticipation of meeting with team officials." No interview has been finalized as of Monday morning, but Payton is operating as if it will happen.
Penner, who is spearheading this search and selecting the new coach, has operated methodically, befitting his corporate background. The plan has always been to conduct a second round of interviews, mindful of what happened a year ago.
Though it was not on Penner's watch, but rather general manager George Paton, the Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett as the first candidate in the building for a follow-up, canceling Dan Quinn's visit. They were captivated by Hackett's energy, and, in hindsight, let emotion factor too much into the decision as well as Hackett's pending interview with the Jaguars.
This time around, Penner and the ownership group — a combination or all of the trio of Rob Walton, Carrie Walton-Penner and Condoleeza Rice — will conduct the second interviews. The Broncos have not placed a deadline on finding a coach, though Payton's availability figures to play into this.
Payton is tentatively scheduled to interview with the Carolina Panthers on Monday. The Panthers and Broncos are considered his most serious suitors. Payton was interviewed by Zoom with the Texans, and has not spoken with the Indianapolis Colts. However, according to Howard Balzer of PHNX, Payton will meet with the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday, so it's unclear if that will move Payton's follow-up with Denver.
Speculation is percolating that the Cowboys might consider moving on from coach Mike McCarthy, though owner Jerry Jones insisted after Sunday's loss to the 49ers that nothing had changed with his status.
The belief that Payton is the slight favorite for the Broncos job traces back to his experience and resume. He won a Super Bowl, seven division titles and reached the playoffs nine times in 15 seasons. Per sources, Payton had a good discussion with the Broncos last Wednesday, a setting where he interviewed them as much as they interviewed him. Payton would want control, possibly even bringing in some of his own front-office contacts. No other candidate has his leverage, and Payton will likely seek between $20 to $25 million per season, per sources.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is eligible to return for a second interview with Dallas eliminated. It's uncertain how many finalists will meet with the Broncos, though the number figures to fall between one and three candidates. Former Stanford coach David Shaw, known well by the Penners and Rice given their ties to the college, and Jim Caldwell could receive call backs based on their previous head coaching experience, a common denominator in this search.
Payton brings offensive acumen and that is a top priority for the Broncos, who ranked last in points per game (16.9) in 2022. The Saints averaged 27.7 points per game from 2006-2021, second in the NFL. And Payton is open to working with quarterback Russell Wilson, who cratered in his first season with the Broncos (16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). Wilson, according to radio host Colin Cowherd, has reached out to Payton, not a surprise given a friendship that started at Pro Bowls.
It's not just as easy as signing Payton. The Broncos will have to acquire him in a trade that will likely require their first-round pick (it is 28th overall right now) and a third-rounder. Saints GM Mickey Loomis could ask for two first-rounders or a first and two third-rounders, but the Broncos don't have to surrender them. And Payton doesn't have to go to the Panthers, who might well give them up.
Remember, Payton can return to FOX and start this process a year from now. So while Loomis wants what is best for the Saints, there is a point where he might have to make the best deal.
The idea of bringing candidates to Denver this week is simple: give the coach a long look at the facilities and have him meet multiple people in the organization. With Payton, that should happen later this week, when this process should start to crystallize as the Broncos look to hire their fifth coach in eight years.