MOBILE — Sean Payton will take on the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson reclamation project, and the New Orleans Saints got a first-round pick back for their Super Bowl winning former head coach.
The Broncos and Saints agreed to a trade on Tuesday to make Payton the 19th head coach in Denver Broncos history, a source confirmed to the Daily News.
Payton was still under contract with the Saints after stepping away prior to the 2022 NFL season, so a trade was required for Denver to hire him.
A source said Denver is trading a 2023 first-round pick (No. 29 overall) and next year’s second-round pick to the Saints in exchange for Payton and New Orleans’ 2024 third rounder, as ESPN first reported.
All that’s left, a source said, is finalizing the terms of Payton’s contract. The deal is expected to make Payton one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL, ESPN said.
The Broncos’ head coaching search appeared to be floundering recently given the impact of Wilson’s expensive acquisition and poor performance on the team’s prospects and assets.
And Payton appeared ready to wait another year to jump back into the NFL after making the rounds on interviews for most of this year’s head coaching vacancies.
But the Broncos, led by owner and CEO Greg Penner and GM George Paton, and the Saints, led by GM Mickey Loomis, persisted to get this trade done.
So Payton, 59, the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV champion coach, now steps in to be nothing short of the Broncos’ savior after working one season in the studio for the NFL on FOX.
Denver won’t be an easy or quick fix, though, even for someone as accomplished as Payton, who long operated one of the league’s top offenses with Drew Brees as his quarterback in New Orleans.
Wilson had a dreadful first season in Denver after a blockbuster trade from Seattle and mega-contract extension from the Broncos.
Rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett got fired. Wilson’s five-year, $245 million contact is so cumbersome, the Broncos can’t get out of it until 2026.
And to make it worse, the Broncos traded this year’s No. 5 overall pick to Seattle, it turned out, when they included their 2023 first-rounder in the Seahawks trade for Wilson.
Paton got Denver back into the 2023 first round by trading edge rusher Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins for Miami’s first-rounder (No. 29 overall) as last season spiraled.
That pick originally belonged to the San Francisco 49ers, who had packaged it to Miami to move up and draft quarterback Trey Lance in 2021.
Now that pick belongs to the Saints, and the Broncos get Payton.
There is some hope in Denver now, especially because Payton has shown a desire to work with Wilson before.
Sources said a few years ago that Payton, while the Saints’ head coach, was lobbying for a Wilson trade from Seattle to New Orleans that never panned out.
Wilson will have to demonstrate that he can still be the quarterback Payton coveted then, of course. Still, there is nowhere to go but up. Wilson quarterbacked the league’s lowest scoring offense this season, averaging 16.9 points per game.
Denver has minimal salary cap space and no draft picks higher than the third round this April. So the Broncos will need to make some moves.
But Payton inherits a talented receiving corps that includes Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton and the rehabbing Tim Patrick. And his priority on offense no doubt will be to fortify the offensive line and establish an effective running and screen game.
Denver arrived at Payton by interviewing eight candidates in its first round of this coaching search, including Payton’s first in-person interview on Jan. 17 in Los Angeles.
Payton was always the potential home run hire.
Some sources initially believed Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was a favorite to land the Denver job until he recommitted to Dallas a second straight year.
And Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans were both considered serious candidates at multiple points of the process.
But while NFL Network reported that the Broncos had made a last-ditch, second effort at hiring Ryans before settling for Payton, a source with knowledge of the situation said the Broncos did not have any recent conversations with Ryans or his representation — and that report is not true.
Ryans agreed to a six-year deal to become the next head coach of the Houston Texans on Tuesday, and the Broncos paid an expensive price for their grand prize, bringing the 15-year Saints head coach to The Mile High city.