The Broncos didn’t waste any time swinging for the fences in their search for their new head coach.

The first two candidates Denver reached out to, outside of the organization, are the two highest-profile candidates out there.

Before Week 18, the Broncos reached out to Jim Harbaugh. On Saturday, a day before the Broncos’ season finale, Denver received permission from the New Orleans Saints to talk to Sean Payton.

Denver, again, didn’t waste any time capitalizing on that.

On Sunday, Payton, who is under contract with the Saints through the 2024 season, confirmed the Broncos are the first team he’s spoken to.

“I was able to have a conversation with [the Broncos’] owner,” Payton said on Fox, where he is currently an analyst.

Along with needing permission from the Saints to talk to Payton, Denver must wait until at least Jan. 17 to have an in-person interview with him since he is under contract with an NFL team. Coaches who are not employed by an NFL team, such as Harbaugh, or employed by the Broncos themselves, such as Ejiro Evero, can interview in-person immediately following the season. But candidates employed by other teams must wait a week.

“I have two years left on a contract with New Orleans. So ’23, this upcoming year, and ’24. So because of that, any team that would want to inquire or speak with me can do so, they just need permission from the Saints,” Payton said. “And then, down the road, if that’s something that materializes into anything else, then there would be compensation required, much like a player trade.”

Reports indicate the Saints would want at least a first-round pick in exchange for their former Super Bowl winning head coach. Additionally, reports also indicate Denver appears to be willing to meet the Saints’ demands. While Denver does not have their own first-round pick in the upcoming draft, they do have San Francisco’s, which they acquired from the Dolphins in exchange for Bradley Chubb.

Despite Denver being the first team to talk with Payton, he was adamant the Broncos aren’t in the driver’s seat to land him.

“There’s absolutely not a place I’m leaning toward,” Payton stated. “And Denver’s been the only team (I’ve talked to).”

The 59-year old stepped away from coaching following the 2021 season. This year, he’s been an analyst on Fox. On Sunday, he pointed to the tremendous people he works with at Fox and said he “loved” his current job and it was not a guarantee he would leave. When asked on a scale of 1-10 what the chances are he returns to Fox as an analyst next year, he said “Seven.”

If he does leave for an NFL head coaching job, it won’t come down to purely who the quarterback is of a certain team. In fact, that isn’t at the top of his priority list in evaluating open jobs.

“Everyone’s asking about that, like city or quarterback—I think it’s more about ownership and front office, “Payton said, when asked if a teams quarterback situation will be the deciding factor for him taking a job. “I think—look, there’s no utopia, all of these teams (with job openings), they’re all moving on for reasons. And some of them, you got to be careful, if it’s not just the coach, if there’s other problems that are deeper. For me, it would be ownership and front office.”

The Broncos’ new ownership group is the wealthiest in the NFL by far. If resources, and thus money, are what Payton is looking for, Denver would have a strong advantage in the Payton sweepstakes.

But Denver will have to wait at least a week to get their first in-person interview with the offensive genius.

Author

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.

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