After becoming the Denver Broncos’ head coach, Sean Payton made it clear he wasn’t going to rush forming his staff.

He’s been true to his word.

Nearly three weeks after being traded to Denver, Payton is still looking for his offensive and defensive coordinator. While he has filled a few position roles, and special teams coordinator, he has yet to hire the two most important positions on his staff.

On the defensive side of the ball, Payton has been connected to big names such as Vic Fangio, Rex Ryan and Vance Joseph, but hasn’t landed any of them yet. Who should Payton hire to lead Denver’s defense?

The DNVR Crew debates.

Who should be the Broncos’ next defensive coordinator?

Zac: Jerod Mayo — Despite the Patriots giving Mayo a sizable contract extension this offseason to stay on New England’s staff, he is still listed as the team’s linebacker coach. Until New England stops messing around and gives him the title of defensive coordinator, the Broncos should absolutely try to pry one of the hottest coaching candidates away from the Northeast.

Mayo was a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker for New England from 2008-2015 before re-joining the organization as a coach in 2019. The past two offseasons, Mayo’s not only been viewed as a top defensive coordinator candidate in the NFL, but has received many head coaching interviews, including from the Broncos last offseason.

If Payton was somehow able to pry him away from New England, this would be considered a unanimous home-run hire. Because New England didn’t give the title “defensive coordinator” to Mayo, the Broncos, as well as other teams, could hire him for that position without the Patriots being able to block the move. Additionally, thanks to the Walter-Penner ownership group, Denver could make Mayo the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL in an effort to sway him to leave.

This would be a dream hire for Payton. If the team isn’t able to pull this off, then they should promote defensive backs coach Christian Parker to defensive coordinator. Parker will soon be one of the hottest defensive coordinator candidates in the NFL. The Broncos should jump before he’s gone in a year or two.

Hank: Rex Ryan — It’s time to bite the bullet and bet on experience.

When Sean Payton first got to town, Vic Fangio and Brian Flores were the top names on the defensive coordinator market. Both are former head coaches. Both have proven success running defenses. Either would have been an inarguably great hire.

But the top choices are off the board and the Broncos have a handful of second-tier options. Sean Desai is a bright coach but his one year as Chicago’s defensive coordinator went horribly. Vance Joseph is experienced but his results are nothing special (at best) and his history in Denver is a kink in the situation. Christian Parker is currently the Broncos’ defensive backs coach and his work in that role has been spectacular, but giving a 31-year-old the reigns to your defense is a risk.

Rex Ryan isn’t a flawless candidate—he’s been out of coaching for six years—but he has plenty to offer. He was the defensive line coach for the vaunted 2000 Ravens defense. He took over as coordinator for four seasons and consistently led one of the best units in the NFL, including leading NFL defenses in yards and points allowed in one of those seasons. He took the Jets to two AFC Championship Games during his six years as head coach.

There’s no guarantee that Ryan will be successful in Denver, but he has as high of a floor as just about anybody on the market. The guy belongs as an NFL coordinator, and he knows how to run a defense.

Ryan was in the TV studios for the NFL’s sub-package revolution, but if he can update his philosophies slightly there’s no reason he can’t be one of the league’s top coordinators.

RK: Rex Ryan — Congratulations, dangling Vance Joseph out there in front of us worked, it made me think Rex Ryan isn’t the worst idea.

I’ll be honest, I’m certainly not hyped up about it, and in hindsight I would have much, much rather kept Ejiro Evero as the team’s defense coordinator. But with that being said, Ryan is a very legitimate option.

The thing about defense is it doesn’t change nearly as much as offense does, so bringing in an older defensive coordinator who has been out of the league for several years doesn’t hurt as much on this side of the ball. Many of the things Ryan had success with when he was in the league are still being used successfully today, and it’s not as if he hasnt been paying attention to the league closely on ESPN. He knows all of the new offensive wrinkles out there and he’s surely put a lot of thought into how he would attempt to stop them.

Ryan was one of the brightest defensive mind the game had to offer when he was in the league, it’s certainly worth a swing. Especially because the other options aren’t awe-inspiring.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.