Sean Payton’s appointment as the Denver Broncos’ head coach was a stroke of luck. Is it difficult that Payton’s move cost the team a first-round pick? Absolutely. In order to bring Payton to Denver, the Broncos had to go through a number of hoops, including signing him to a deal that is probably the biggest among head coaches in the NFL right now.
Despite many people predicting that the Los Angeles Chargers will hire Payton as their next head coach following their playoff disaster against Jacksonville, it appears that the team was unwilling to go through those hoops.
As soon as the Chargers’ 2022–2023 season reached zero, rumors started to circulate that Payton would succeed Brandon Staley, who was expected to lose his job…until he didn’t. At the time, there was so much rumor that media outlets sort of implied that the Denver Broncos had little chance of winning.
It was presumpted that Russell Wilson would make the Broncos one of the least desired employers, but the reverse is actually true. Sean Payton in particular found the Broncos’ secure ownership under the Walton-Penner combination to be very alluring.
It is difficult to take talk show host Stephen A. Smith at face value when he claims that Payton wanted the Chargers job and the only reason it didn’t happen is because Chargers ownership didn’t want to make a change. This is because Payton had made it clear throughout the interview process (while he was still working in the media with FOX) that ownership was a major priority for him.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, but you can see why Payton would be interested in the position from a player personnel perspective. The opportunity to coach Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Justin Herbert, and other key players for the Chargers seemed to be only a “coach away,” as they say. However, it was not meant to be.
The Chargers’ ownership has a lengthy history of not doing enough to make the team as competitive as possible, according to Dean Spanos. In that sense, isn’t there some irony here?
It doesn’t exactly scream stability at the top that Chargers owner Dean Spanos is being sued by his own sister for “mysoginistic” and “financially ruinous” business activities. When you consider how crucial ownership was for Sean Payton, the temptation of coaching Justin Herbert is only so strong. He was hired using a method that was considerably more complex than a depth chart, which Stephen A. Smith and many others evidently don’t understand.
Would he have chosen to continue coaching in LA? Maybe, but I believe the Rams and Sean McVay’s seat exchange was the more likely outcome. There were whispers that McVay would decide to leave acting and choose a job in television paying $20 million a year or something equally absurd. But McVay remained. And in 2023, Payton had only a few choices if he wanted to return to the NFL: Denver, Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis, and Carolina.
It’s fortunate that the Broncos entered this cycle since there wasn’t much of a market for Payton’s services. besides, it’s not really competition.
Given how important ownership is, it was fortunate that Denver was able to complete the team’s sale last year and have the Walton-Penner ownership group manage operations for a full season in preparation for hiring a well-known coach like Payton.
Payton moving to Los Angeles this offseason wouldn’t have been unexpected, but there was always more going on.