ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints that will make Sean Payton their head coach, a person familiar with the deal said Tuesday.
The person, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams had not announced the deal, said the Broncos will send the Saints their first pick, No. 29 overall, in this year’s draft. along with a future second round. Denver will also receive a third pick in the trade.
Payton remained under contract with New Orleans after resigning from the Saints last year and working in broadcasting this season.
Payton, 59, went 152-89 in 15 seasons with the Saints and 9-8 in the playoffs. He led New Orleans to a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2009 Super Bowl after the 2009 Super Bowl. He walked away last year when quarterback Drew Brees retired.
The Broncos, who went 5-12 in 2022 and extended their playoff drought to seven years, fired rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26 after going 4-11. Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1.
Payton’s main job will be getting quarterback Russell Wilson back to his winning ways after the 11-year pro had his worst season statistically following his blockbuster trade from Seattle for four premium draft picks and three players.
The Seahawks made the playoffs under QB Geno Smith in their first year without Wilson, and now own the Broncos’ No. 5 pick in the April draft.
The Broncos returned to the first round by trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb midseason to the Miami Dolphins, who sent the Broncos a first-round originally owned San Francisco 49ers.
That selection, the 29th overall pick, now belongs to the Saints.
Payton was the headliner during this year’s head coaching opening cycle. Only five teams were looking for coaches: Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.
The Broncos conducted extensive research, starting with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who has decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw were also considered. The Texans took on Ryans on Tuesday.
NFL rules didn’t allow the Broncos to talk to Payton until January 17, more than three weeks after he fired Hackett.
Team owner and CEO Greg Penner led the search with assistance from limited partner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton.
Paton led the search last year and landed Hackett, one of several decisions that backfired in 2022 as Hackett became just the fifth head coach in NFL history to not survive his first season.
Others were the $70 million contract he gave to free agent Randy Gregory, who played in six games and recorded a pair of sacks, and the $245 million contract extension he gave Wilson before the opening .
Wilson threw a career-high 16 touchdown passes and was sacked a league-leading and career-high 55 times in 15 games for Denver. He promised to do everything possible to recover in 2023.
Wilson played well for two weeks under Rosburg, giving the team hope that his poor performances last season were an aberration and that perhaps his skill set was just a poor match for Hackett’s offense.
Penner, his wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, and his father, Rob Walton, bought the Broncos last summer for $4.65 billion, a world record for a professional sports franchise. But the team turned out to be more decisive than they expected.
“When we bought this amazing franchise in August, this is not the season we expected,” Penner said after firing Hackett. “I want to personally apologize to our fans and to all of the Broncos country. We know we have to improve and we will.”
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