The Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints that will make Sean Payton their head coach, a person with knowledge of the accord said Tuesday.
The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams hadn’t announced the agreement, said the Broncos would send their first-round pick, No. 29 overall, in this year’s draft to the Saints along with a future second-rounder. Denver also will receive a third-round pick in the trade.
CBC Sports has not independently confirmed the reports.
Payton remained under contract with New Orleans after stepping down 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 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl following the 2009 season. He stepped 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 coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26 after he went 4-11. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1.
Payton’s top task will be to get quarterback Russell Wilson back to his winning ways after the 11-year pro had his worst statistical season following his blockbuster trade from Seattle for four premium draft picks and three players.
The Seahawks reached the playoffs under QB Geno Smith in their first year without Wilson, and now they own the Broncos’ No. 5 overall selection in the draft in April.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson leaves the field after their loss during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in 2022. (Jacob Kupferman/The Associated Press)
The Broncos got back into the first round by trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb at mid-season to the Miami Dolphins, who sent the Broncos a first-rounder originally owned by the San Francisco 49ers.
That selection, the 29th overall pick, now belongs to the Saints.
Payton was the headliner during this year’s cycle of head coach openings. Just five teams were searching for coaches: the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.
The Broncos conducted an extensive search, beginning with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Also considered were Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw. The Texans hired Ryans on Tuesday.
Nathaniel Hackett of the Denver Broncos looks on against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field in 2022 in Seattle. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
NFL rules didn’t allow the Broncos to speak with Payton until Jan. 17, more than three weeks after they’d 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 last year’s search and landed on Hackett, one of several decisions that backfired on him in 2022 as Hackett became just the fifth head coach in NFL history not to survive his first season.
Others were the $70 million US 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 to Wilson before the opener.
Wilson threw a career-low 16 touchdown passes and was sacked a league-leading and career-high 55 times in 15 games for Denver. He has vowed to do everything he can to bounce back 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 maybe his skill set was just a bad fit in Hackett’s offence.
Penner, his wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, and her father, Rob Walton, purchased the Broncos last summer for $4.65 billion, a global record for a professional sports franchise. But the team turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than they expected.
“When we purchased this great franchise in August, this is not the season we were expecting,” Penner said after firing Hackett. “I want to personally apologize to our fans and all of Broncos country. We know that we need to be better and we will.”
Texans hire DeMeco Ryans as head coach
DeMeco Ryans has been hired as coach of the Houston Texans, giving him his first head coaching job and bringing him back to the place where he started his playing career.
Ryans joins the Texans from the San Francisco 49ers, where he spent the past two seasons as their defensive coordinator.
He replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired after just one season where the team went 3-13-1.
Ryans issued a statement thanking the 49ers, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch for his time in San Francisco before looking ahead to his future with the Texans.
“Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town,” Ryans said. “I have been around the game of football my entire life and I’ve always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league as both a player and coach.”
“We’re going to build a program filled with players who have a special work ethic and relentless mindset,” he continued.
“I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and to the fans of Houston to build a winner and I can’t wait to get to work.”
A fan favourite during his playing days in Houston, Ryans could help the team win back some fans that have become disenchanted with the direction of the Texans as they muddled through three straight dreadful seasons after winning the AFC South in 2018 and 2019.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans before a game in January. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/The Associated Press)
Houston’s most famous former player, J.J. Watt, appears to support the move, with the recently retired defensive end tweeting a picture this week of himself with Ryans when the two played for the Texans.
Team owner Cal McNair vowed to be more involved in this hiring after the Texans fired their past two coaches after just one season. David Culley was fired after coaching the team in the 2021 season before Smith was hired.
“For so many reasons, DeMeco is everything we are looking for in a leader and coach for our organization,” McNair said. “He has a proven track record for developing high-quality players and constantly innovated his defensive scheme over the last six seasons in San Francisco.”
Ryans is the third consecutive Black head coach the team his hired in as many years. The Texans faced criticism for firing two Black coaches after just one season with rosters devoid of any stars and lacking much talent.
Former Texans head coach Lovie Smith looks during a game in 2022. The victory gave Chicago the top pick in this year’s draft and relegated Houston to picking second. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Ryans led a 49ers defence that led the NFL this season by allowing just 300.6 yards a game.
San Francisco was particularly good against the run, ranking second in the league by holding teams to 77.7 yards. That’s a stark contrast to Houston’s run defence, which ranked last in the NFL by allowing 170.2 yards this season.
Ryans helped the 49ers to a 13-4 regular-season record and the NFC West title this season. San Francisco reached the NFC championship game before falling to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Texans decided on Ryans after interviewing Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Rams assistant head coach Thomas Brown, former Saints coach Sean Payton, Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
The 38-year-old Ryans was a linebacker who was a second-round pick of the Texans in 2006. He led the NFL with 126 solo tackles that season to win AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honours.
‘Working to build a sustainable program’
He spent his first six NFL seasons with the Texans where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009. Ryans started all 16 games in five of his six seasons in Houston and piled up 636 tackles, including 43 for losses and 8 1/2 sacks.
Ryans finished his playing career with the Eagles, where he spent the 2012-15 seasons.
Ryans has spent his entire coaching career with the 49ers. He was San Francisco’s inside linebackers coach from 2018-20 after spending the 2017 season as the defensive quality control coach.
“DeMeco is a proven coach with a track record of success who has an innate ability to lead people,” general manager Nick Caserio said. “He is progressive in his vision, a great communicator, a connector and somebody that values collaboration.”
“We are working to build a sustainable program that has long-term success and DeMeco is the coach we feel is the best fit to help us achieve our goals,” Caserio continued. “We know how important it is to get results now and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to partner with DeMeco to build our football team together.”
Ryans joins a team that has plenty of holes to fill but has 11 picks in this year’s draft, including the No. 2 and 12th overall selections.
Houston is expected to address its glaring need at quarterback with its first pick and could add a piece to its defence with its other first-round pick that the team received from Cleveland as part of the Deshaun Watson trade.
Ryans becomes the sixth coach in franchise history and the first who played for the team.
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