The Broncos agreed to terms with the Saints on Tuesday to bring on Sean Payton as the team’s head coach, ending one of the offseason’s more interesting coaching searches.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported the Broncos agreed to compensate New Orleans with a 2023 first-round draft pick, giving the Saints the No. 23 overall pick on top of an early pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Payton now will be tasked with improving a team that went 5-12 in 2021 under a struggling quarterback in Russell Wilson.
However, Rapoport reported on Tuesday that Denver exhausted every other opportunity before finally agreeing to part ways with its draft capital to hire Payton:
Unbelievable: The #Broncos spent today trying to hire DeMeco Ryans AGAIN today before he recommitted to the #Texans, sources say. When he agreed to terms with the Texans, they moved and finalized Sean Payton.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 31, 2023
MORE: Sean Payton trade details– What draft picks Broncos sent to Saints in return for Super Bowl-winning head coach
That followed news on Monday that the 49ers defensive coordinator had informed the Broncos he was likely going to sign with the Texans, which drafted him 33rd overall in the 2006 NFL Draft and where he was a starter from 2006 through 2011. That clearly did not dissuade Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner from attempting to hire Ryans again.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter later contracted Rapoport, reporting the Broncos were zeroing in on Payton all day with no mention of Ryans:
Timing of today’s two hires was completely coincidental. Broncos were zeroed in on Sean Payton, and didn’t make any contact this week with DeMeco Ryans or his agent. Denver was focused on Payton, and Houston on Ryans.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2023
MORE: Sean Payton hired by Broncos: Why former Saints coach chose to ride with Russell Wilson in Denver
According to ProFootballTalk, “One source with knowledge of the situation described the report as a ‘complete fabrication.’ The source said that there has been no communication with Ryans or his agent, directly or indirectly, since last week. Nothing through players, intermediaries, or back channels.”
Another facet of the Broncos’ coach search timeline is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whom the team reportedly remained in contact with even after he announced his return to Michigan. Rapoport in a joint report with Tom Pelissero claimed Penner flew to Ann Arbor in the team’s final stages of its coaching search to interview Harbaugh, even after he removed his name from consideration on Jan. 16.
With that, The Sporting News looks at the coaching search timeline for the Broncos, from the firing of Nathaniel Hackett to Payton’s hiring:
MORE: Sean Payton trade grades– Broncos hire Russell Wilson’s perfect coach, Saints score key draft capital
Broncos coaching search timeline
Dec. 26, 2022: Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett following a 4-11 start to the season. Jerry Rosburg is named interim coach for the team’s remaining two games.
Jan. 8, 2023: Broncos finish their season with a 31-28 victory over the Chargers, ending Rosburg’s interim tenure with a 1-1 season. Denver finishes the season 5-12 overall and last in the AFC West.
Jan. 9, 2023: Broncos virtually interview Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, roughly a week after Wolverines’ season ends following College Football Playoff championship semifinal loss to TCU.
Jan. 10, 2023: Broncos interview in-house defensive coordinator Ejiro Eviro.
Jan. 11, 2023: Broncos interview former Lions coach Jim Caldwell and recently retired Stanford coach David Shaw.
Jan. 16, 2023: Harbaugh announces his intent to return to Michigan, seemingly ending any talks between him and Broncos.
Jan. 17, 2023: Denver has in-person interview with Payton after having received permission from Saints. Schefter also reports the Broncos will interview Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris on the same day.
Jan. 19, 2023: Ryans completes his first interview with the Broncos.
Jan. 20, 2023: Denver conducts interview with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn for the second time in as many seasons.
Jan. 23, 2023: Broncos reportedly have second interview with Payton after his initial interview a week prior.
Jan. 26, 2023: Quinn reportedly informs Broncos and other teams he will return to Dallas for 2023 season.
Jan. 28, 2023: Rapoport and Pelissero report Penner flew to Ann Arbor for in-person interview with Harbaugh after previously conducting a virtual interview. NFL.com reports the interview, conducted “this week,” did not result in an offer from the Broncos to Harbaugh.
Jan. 29, 2023: Denver reportedly informs four candidates — Eviro, Caldwell, Shaw and Morris — they are no longer in consideration to coach the team.
Jan. 30, 2023: Ryans reportedly informs Broncos he is focusing on coaching Texans, who announce his hiring the next day. Reports indicate neither Ryans nor his agent formally removed his name from consideration.
Jan. 31, 2023: Saints and Texans announce the hirings of Payton and Ryans, respectively. Rapoport reports Denver attempted to persuade Ryans to become its coach, only signing Payton after the former had agreed to terms with Houston. Schefter follows up with a contradictory report claiming the timing of the hirings is coincidental.
The #Broncos last few weeks:
— Zeroed in on DeMeco Ryans.
— Secretly tried to lure Jim Harbaugh from Michigan.
— Negotiated a Sean Payton deal.
— Tried to hire Ryans again.
— Finalized the hire of Payton as their new coach. https://t.co/tlMLnjdM9u
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 31, 2023
Either way, one of the most exhaustive coaching searches of the NFL offseason is complete. Whether the Broncos got their preferred coach remains uncertain.