Sean Payton could have a list of suitors a mile high.
The Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett on Monday morning, prematurely ending his disastrous first season as head coach, and the speculation immediately turned to whether Payton would come out of retirement to coach in Denver.
The first step for Payton, or any head coach who takes the job in Denver, would be reverting quarterback Russell Wilson to any semblance of his former self. It would not be practical for the Broncos to part ways with Wilson in the next several years; he has $107 million in dead cap next season, $85 million in 2024, $49.6 million in 2025, and what would still be a bitter pill to swallow of $31.2 million in 2026.
“Feel like the Broncos best chance at a quick fix is to give Sean Payton a blank check and hope he can make Russ not awful,” Dan Katz of Barstool Sports tweeted in the immediate wake of Hackett’s firing. “The Waltons could pay him unlimited money.”
The Waltons refers to Rob Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune, who purchased the Broncos at a record valuation of $4.65 billion last summer.
The 58-year-old Payton coached the Saints from 2006-21, and his tenure included a Super Bowl victory and 10 winning seasons.
Payton, who is spending the season working as a studio commentator for Fox Sports, does seem inclined to return to the sidelines. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Payton has already been assembling a potential staff, including former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, a reputed defensive mind.
But luring Payton to Denver could be difficult. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier this month that if Payton had his “druthers” he would coach in Los Angeles. The Rams’ job would only open up if Sean McVay steps down, and the Chargers would likely need to have a late-season collapse for there to be any chance of Brandon Staley losing his job.
Payton will also forever be linked to the Cowboys, should Mike McCarthy not get over the hump of winning a playoff game or two. The other open jobs, so far, are the Panthers and Colts.
Any team that does hope to sign Payton would need to work out compensation with the Saints, given that when the coach left the job he was still under contract.