As the Denver Broncos gear up for a Christmas Day throwdown with the Los Angeles Rams, all eyes are focused on head coach Nathaniel Hackett and his job security. Hackett was hired this past January and was handed nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade with Seattle.
Hackett’s hire, combined with Wilson’s arrival, created Mile-High expectations around the Broncos, and in Year 1 as head coach, it’s safe to say Hackett has under-delivered. Multiple NFL insiders project the Broncos to make another head-coaching change at season’s end.
The Broncos would likely only fire Hackett after just one season if the new Walton/Penner ownership group had a sure-fire upgrade to replace him. Some rumors have pointed to Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as a possible Hackett replacement, but the dream would be former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
However, there would be a few obstacles to overcome if the Broncos wanted to enter the Payton sweepstakes, including a lucrative offer to him and compensation to the Saints, who still own his rights after he ‘retired’ following the 2021 season. While the Walton/Penner group has the resources to make Payton, and the Saints, an offer they couldn’t refuse, a new fly found its way into the ointment.
According to ESPN insider Adam Schefter, when he returns to the NFL head-coaching ranks, Payton is eyeing Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator.
Sean Payton is so interested in returning to coaching in the NFL that he’s already putting together an all-star staff that includes former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio as his potential defensive coordinator, league sources told ESPN.
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Fangio, of course, served as Denver’s head coach from 2019-21 before GM George Paton fired him nearly one year ago. It’s hard to imagine Fangio, who’s sat out of coaching this season, rubber-stamping a return to the NFL as an assistant for a team that fired him as a head coach one year prior.
Schefter explained why Payton is fixated on joining forces with Fangio.
Fangio is regarded as one of the game’s top defensive minds and is expected to be in demand from more than just Payton. But in an ideal world, Payton and Fangio would like to join forces in 2023 and provide a team with the offensive and defensive mindsets it would need to form a top coaching duo.
Indeed, it’s possible Fangio could find himself in the running for head-coaching vacancies around the NFL, though I doubt it. What Schefter is alluding to is the demand NFL teams will have for Fangio’s defensive acumen as a coordinator.
The rumor mill has been all over the place on which NFL landing spots Payton has his eye on, including the Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, and Arizona Cardinals. All three teams have a veteran quarterback in place, though the Chargers and Cardinals feature a younger signal-caller still approaching their ceiling. Payton landing with the Rams would be contingent on what Sean McVay ultimately opts to do at season’s end.
The Broncos haven’t been directly connected to Payton — outside of pure speculation. Payton is viewed as the top head-coaching candidate in the 2023 NFL hiring cycle, but if this Fangio news is correct — and we have no reason to disbelieve it — it could take Denver out of the running for Payton’s services.
The equalizer here would be the deep pockets of the NFL’s richest owner — Rob Walton. If Walton truly wanted Payton, he could throw a king’s ransom at him so lucrative that the Super Bowl-winning head coach could be persuaded to abandon the Fangio team-up and accept, say, current Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero as a consolation.
There are three games left in this season. Black Monday in Denver will be interesting, to say the least.
Payton’s overtures relative to Fangio could impact the Broncos’ decision on Hackett, especially if Denver finishes strong this season. Sitting at 4-10, many believe Hackett would have to win out in order to save his job.
All will be known in due time.
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