As the regular season winds down, the Denver Broncos head coaching search is heating up.

According to reports on Friday afternoon, the Broncos have requested permission to interview former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. And beyond that, Denver’s front office — consisting of new owner Greg Penner and GM George Paton — have now also begun negotiations with the Saints which would compensate them for Payton in a trade.

This, per Ian Rapoport:

“My understanding is the Saints and Broncos have begun negotiations for a deal to compensate the Saints. No doubt the Saints are going to be looking for a first round pick and more. The Broncos have not blinked,” Rapoport said Sunday morning.

But that’s not all on this NFL regular season finale Sunday morning!

Tom Pelissero is now reporting the Broncos will interview Jim Harbaugh, coach of the Michigan Wolverines, this week:

From the first moment both Payton and Harbaugh’s names came up, they seemed like vast long shots for the Broncos. However, Denver is going after the two biggest names around the NFL coaching world currently.

Payton has been a fan favorite to replace Nathaniel Hackett at head coach.


He’s an incredibly gifted offensive mastermind who has been the New Orleans head coach since 2006 and stepped away from the position in 2021, one year after his longtime quarterback Drew Brees retired.

Under Payton, Brees was one of the best passers in the NFL, regularly leading the league in categories ranging from completion percentage to passing yards, touchdowns and even passer rating. It wasn’t just Brees who flourished, but the Saints offense as a whole. They were a top-10 offense in 12-of-15 years under Payton and top-5 in scoring 9 times.

That makes him a seemingly perfect fit for the Broncos, who have been one of the worst offensive teams since Peyton Manning’s last season, the Super Bowl 50-winning year of 2015.

To wit, the Broncos have been in the bottom-third of the NFL in scoring 5-of-7 years going back to and including 2015.

Beyond their recent, historically bad offense in general, there’s also hope Payton could “fix” Russell Wilson. Wilson, the former superstar quarterback who regressed a surprising amount in 2022, will be with the Broncos at least through the 2023 season and he signed a massive $245 million deal which has him with the team through 2028.

They could cut him and incur incredibly large dead cap hits, but the more ideal scenario would be a quarterback genius like Payton coming into to resurrect Wilson’s career.

Payton has been option 1A in most circles because of his offensive prowess, his Super Bowl-winning pedigree and more recent success in the league compared to Harbaugh.

But Harbaugh has been option 1B, and now the Broncos will interview him this week.

To make that clear: With Payton, they have requested an interview. But Harbaugh will reportedly be interviewed by the team first. That means he could have first dibs, if you will, for the job. That is if Harbaugh is offered the position and then if he leaves Michigan and pays a $3 million buyout for leaving early.

Harbaugh last coached in the NFL in 2014, when he was pushed out by the San Francisco 49ers. During his short tenure there, though — from 2011-2014 — he was named the NFL Coach of the Year in 2011 and took the team to the Super Bowl in his second season. Overall, the 49ers went 44-19-1 during his time with the team.

Harbaugh is a big-time personality which players and other personnel seem to love at first, but that can wear on them over time. Which is what reportedly led to his ousting in San Francisco.

Since then, he’s been with the Michigan Wolverines, one of the biggest programs at the NCAA level. The last two years, his teams have made it to the College Football Playoff only to lose both the Orange Bowl — to eventual National Champion Georgia — last year, and then to TCU this year. TCU plays Georgia for the National Championship tomorrow.

And though the Wolverines have been competitive at a high level during his time with the team, they’ve also gone 1-6 in bowl games. That may be enough to help push him back into the NFL.

And he’s flirted with the idea, too. After the 2021 season, Harbaugh said he would take the Las Vegas Raiders job if offered, but he wasn’t. Then, he was linked to the Minnesota Vikings job, but after two interviews with the team, wasn’t offered the job and returned to Michigan.

This year, Harbaugh has been linked to the Carolina Panthers as well as the Broncos, and some speculate he would pick Carolina over Denver.

However, a week ago multiple reports said to “book” Harbaugh to the Broncos.

Now, it looks like Harbaugh is in pole position to win the Broncos job. Although, Sean Payton is right behind him.

As for Payton, he would reportedly cost more than Harbaugh ($25M per year, vs. $20M per), and some are speculating he could end up with Tom Brady next year in New Orleans. Note, Payton and Brady share an agent.

Payton could also have opportunities with the Los Angeles Chargers and/or the Dallas Cowboys, although neither of those teams have decided to move on from their current head coaches. At least, not yet.

If the Denver Broncos end up missing out on Payton or deciding his price tag is too big — including trading away a first-round pick — and if they pass on Harbaugh, the next-best coach for the Broncos is Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Before any of this is decided, the Broncos (4-12) face the aforementioned Chargers (10-6) and Justin Herbert today in Denver. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:25 p.m. MT and then the long, sad season will mercifully come to an end.

In the near future, the Broncos will have a new head coach, and it could be one of these two massive names. Either one could likely lift Denver from obscurity back to a competitive place, and in a hurry.