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Broncos, Texans Take Big Swings on Sean Payton, DeMeco Ryans

  • Denver traded multiple draft picks to acquire Payton from New Orleans.
  • Houston gave Ryans a six-year deal — a show of faith after firing its last two coaches after one season each.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday saw two NFL teams fill their head coaching vacancies — doing so in two vastly different ways and with two vastly different motives.

First, the Denver Broncos agreed to terms with former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. Minutes later, news broke that the Houston Texans were signing former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

As Payton was still under contract with the Saints, the Broncos had to trade for him, sending a 2023 first-round draft pick and a 2024 second-round pick to New Orleans in exchange for Payton and a 2024 third-rounder, per multiple reports.

The Broncos seem to be attempting to justify last season’s enormous Russell Wilson trade by now trading for a head coach — a move that’s not entirely unprecedented and has actually had success in the past.

In 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash to the Oakland Raiders for the rights to Jon Gruden. The Bucs won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in Gruden’s first season at the helm.

Denver appears to be trying to capture that same lightning in a bottle with Payton — who is no stranger to winning himself, having won seven NFC South titles and Super Bowl XLIV with New Orleans.

The 59-year-old last coached professional football in 2021 and left it embroiled in his second career scandal after the Miami Dolphins reportedly impermissibly contacted him regarding a potential $100 million contract. He spent 2022 as an analyst for Fox Sports.

But if Payton is able to work his magic and get Wilson back on track after a disastrous, career-worst season, it would justify the Broncos sending away the bevy of draft picks it took to put the two of them together.

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Meanwhile, the Texans have the dubious distinction of having hired a record three Black head coaches in a row — but firing the first two (David Culley, Lovie Smith) after just one season each.

But in many ways, Ryans feels like the perfect hire for Houston, who is putting more faith in him than either of his predecessors by reportedly giving him a six-year contract.

  • The 38-year-old played linebacker for the Texans from 2006-2011 and for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2012-2015 — during which time he earned a reputation as a potential future head coach.
  • The 49ers had the 2022 season’s No. 1-ranked defense by total DVOA, yards allowed per game (300.6), and points allowed per game (16.3).
  • The Texans have the second overall pick in the draft, which they are expected to use on a franchise quarterback — likely Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young.

That the two hirings were announced so close together may not have been a coincidence: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Broncos tried multiple times to convince Ryans to sign with them — including on Tuesday — and finalized a deal with Payton when it did not come to fruition.

With Payton and Ryans off the board, the Arizona Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts are the only two teams in the league who still need to fill head coaching vacancies.