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Broncos granted permission to interview Sean Payton

The Saints have given Denver permission to interview Sean Payton for their head coaching job

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL regular season has yet to end, but the offseason is already getting underway. According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the head coaching cycle will begin with Sean Payton. The Denver Broncos have been given permission by the New Orleans Saints to interview Payton for their head coaching vacancy.

According to the report from Schefter, the NFL has determined that any in-person interview cannot take place until after Jan. 17th.

The Broncos parted ways with Nathaniel Hackett after just 15 games into his first season as an NFL head coach. Denver won just four of those games, and the Broncos’ offense sputtered despite the presence of Russell Wilson as their starting quarterback. Last offseason, the Broncos acquired Wilson via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, parting ways with Drew Lock, Noah Fant, and a number of draft picks, including a first-round selection in 2023, to acquire the quarterback.

At this moment, that pick is slated to be third-overall.

Beyond the trade itself, Denver then signed Wilson to a massive five-year contract extension, worth $245 million, with $165 million of that guaranteed.

Because of the structure of Wilson’s contract — and the hole it would put the Broncos in if they were to move him, even with a post-June 1st designation — trying to find a way to fix Wilson is likely a priority for the next head coach. After Hackett was let go, Broncos General Manager George Paton was asked about Wilson, and in his words, the belief in Denver is that Wilson is “fixable.”

Team owner and CEO Greg Penner — who is going to lead the coaching search shared that opinion:

“The decision to have Russell here was a long-term one. This season has not been up to his standards or expectations. We saw some glimpses of it in the last few weeks. He knows he can play better, we know he can play better, and we know he will do the right work in the offseason to be ready for next year.”

That makes Payton an intriguing option. During his time in New Orleans, the Saints often had one of the better passing offenses in the league. In 2020, Drew Brees’ last season in the NFL, Brees posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.60, which was seventh-best in the NFL. New Orleans also ranked eighth in EPA per Play that season:

Compensation could be a tricky factor in any negotiations. Payton’s sudden retirement last winter means he is still under contract with the Saints, and as such, they would be owed compensation should he be hired to coach somewhere else. An earlier report from Schefter indicated that the starting point would be draft picks in the first round. The Broncos do have a first-round pick via the Bradley Chubb trade, so that could be a starting point.

A follow-up report from Schefter on Saturday noted that negotiations over compensation would come later:

Still, if Payton could create that kind of production from the Saints’ offense late in Brees’ career, perhaps he could do the same for Wilson in Denver.

The bigger question might be: Is he willing to try?