Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday that the Broncos, who fired Nathaniel Hackett Dec. 26 after a 4-11 record in his 15-game tenure, had formally made the request to the Saints. Payton stepped down as Saints coach in January 2022 after 15 seasons.
The Saints still hold Payton’s contractual rights so any team that wants to hire Payton will have to come to an agreement with the Saints about compensation. Payton and the Saints agreed to a five-year extension in 2019 that would have run through the 2024 season. The Broncos and Saints do not have to — and haven’t — agreed to compensation for Payton to be interviewed, sources said. That would come later if talks advance to that state. But the Saints could have denied permission for Payton to be interviewed by any team if they wished.
The NFL has informed the Broncos the team cannot interview Peyton in person until Jan. 17 at the earliest.
Broncos owner/CEO Greg Penner promised the day after Hackett was fired to lead a comprehensive search that would include coaches with head-coaching experience as well as candidates who had not yet been head coaches.
“We’ve got to get this right,” Penner said.
The Broncos do not have the same kind of draft capital as some teams do given they traded five draft picks — two first-rounders, two second-rounders and a fifth-rounder — to go with three players to the Seattle Seahawks last March to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Broncos did not have a first- or second-round pick in the 2023 draft when the season began, but they acquired a first-rounder from the Miami Dolphins in November as part of the Bradley Chubb trade. That pick, however, was acquired by the Dolphins from the San Francisco 49ers so it will be a late one in the opening round given the 49ers have one of the NFC’s best records.
The Broncos still do not have a second-round pick in 2023 and would have to consider, after trading their first-round picks to the Seahawks in 2022 and 2023, if they want to potentially take themselves out of the first round in this April’s draft or in 2024 and beyond.
In 2000, the New England Patriots sent first- and fourth-round picks in that year’s draft to go with a fourth- and seventh-rounder in the 2001 draft to the New York Jets to hire Bill Belichick. And in 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million to the Raiders to hire Jon Gruden.
Finances are not an issue for the Broncos’ new ownership group, led by Walmart heir Rob Walton as well as Penner and Penner’s wife Carrie Walton Penner. The group is the wealthiest in the NFL given Walton’s net worth alone has been estimated at $61 billion.
When asked after Hackett was fired what he was looking for in a new head coach, Penner said: “Obviously, the X’s and O’s are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with culture. It’s instilling a sense of accountability and discipline. We need an identity on offense. At the starting point, it has to be about culture and leadership. Those characteristics are what we’ll be focused on the most.”
The Walton-Penner group was formally approved by the NFL in August. Hackett had been hired in January 2022 after an extensive search led by general manager George Paton when 10 candidates were interviewed.
However, Hackett struggled early in the season with game management and clock issues. The team’s offense, which is last in the league in scoring, has struggled all season as Wilson is on track for a career low in touchdown passes and already has been sacked a career-high 53 times.
Hackett was fired after the team’s 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day that featured, in addition to the worst on-field performance of the season, sideline blowups and outside linebacker Randy Gregory punching a Rams player in the postgame walk-off.
The Broncos close out the season Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers in Empower Field at Mile High. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg will coach his second and final game after being moved into the role.
It is the seventh consecutive season the Broncos have missed the playoffs as their last playoff appearance was their Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season — Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s last NFL game.
The Broncos are known to have reached out to representatives for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to gauge his interest in the job. And Paton has said the Broncos also wanted to interview current defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero as well.
Payton was 152-89 in regular-season games with the Saints, 9-8 in the postseason with one Super Bowl win. The team, during Drew Brees’ career at quarterback, perennially had one of the league’s most prolific offenses.
Payton was the league’s coach of the year in 2006.