After making the biggest splash move last offseason by trading two first- and two second-round picks for Russell Wilson, the Denver Broncos were back at it Tuesday with another blockbuster trade.
The Broncos agreed to compensation with the New Orleans Saints in return for Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Payton went 152–89 in 15 seasons as Saints head coach, including a win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints will receive the Broncos’ 2023 first-round pick (No. 29 overall) and their 2024 second-round pick for Payton and the Saints’ 2024 third-round selection, sources said.
Denver will hope for better results from this move after Wilson struggled for most of the season. The Broncos finished last in the league, averaging 16.9 points per game, which resulted in first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett being fired after a 4–11 start.
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Saints reporter Katherine Terrell and draft analyst Matt Miller break down the deal from all sides.
What’s the history of coaches being traded for first-round draft picks?
Before the Payton trade Tuesday, three coaches had been traded for packages that included a first-rounder:
In 1997, Bill Parcells was traded from the New England Patriots to the New York Jets for four picks (1997 3rd, 1997 4th, 1998 2nd, 1999 1st). In 2000, Bill Belichick was traded from the Jets to the Patriots for three draft picks (2000 1st, 2001 4th, 2001 7th). The Patriots got two picks (2001 5th, 2002 7th) back from the Jets. In 2002, Jon Gruden was traded from the Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four picks (2002 1st, 2002 2nd, 2003 1st, 2004 2nd) and $8 million.
The Baltimore Colts also ended up getting a first-round pick from the Miami Dolphins for Don Shula. The NFL ruled Miami violated tampering rules in its recruitment of the coach and made them surrender the pick. , ESPN Stats & Analysis
Why did this move make sense for Payton?
Payton loves a challenge and is fond of the saying “crisis or carnival,” referring to how a team will respond to the weekly tests that come up during the season. Wilson will be a big part of that challenge. Payton has offered up his plan to “fix” Wilson in public interviews this year. Not only does Payton get a chance to try to return a veteran quarterback to his previous winning form, but he also inherits a unit that finished seventh in total defense. It’s also Payton’s chance to show that he can win without future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who was with him for 15 seasons in New Orleans. , Terrell
Why did Denver believe it was worth giving up draft picks — including a first-rounder — for Payton?
The fact the Saints were willing to take the No. The 29 overall pick was likely a key piece of the deal. General manager George Paton acquired the pick from the Dolphins (the Dolphins originally got it from the San Francisco 49ers) in exchange for Bradley Chubb in November. The Broncos did not have the draft capital of some other teams in pursuit of Payton because they surrendered five picks, including first- and second-rounders in 2022 and 2023, as part of the Wilson trade. They had hoped to keep their 2024 first-rounder and not surrender more than one first-rounder in any potential deal for Payton. The willingness of the Saints to agree to a deal that included that 29th pick to go with a second-rounder in 2024 (they don’t have a second-rounder this year) means the Broncos won’t pick until the third round this year. But it was a price they were willing to pay to get the kind of resume Payton brings. , Legwold
Why did the Saints decide this was the right move?
The Saints knew from the day Payton stepped away that he could be back on the sidelines by 2023 — whether it was with them or not. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis didn’t want to prevent Payton from returning, but he also wanted adequate compensation. That compensation would’ve dropped drastically if Payton didn’t find a team until 2024, which would’ve been the final year of his Saints deal. The Saints now get a chance to get back into Day 1 of the draft and won’t walk away empty-handed after losing their coach unexpectedly last year. Their future at quarterback is murky enough that Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan was tweeting his desire for the Saints to draft one minutes after the Payton news broke. A first-round pick could certainly help them get back into the mix – including giving them more draft capital if they wanted to try to trade up to draft a quarterback. Terrell
What does this mean for Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson?
Wilson called Payton “one of the world’s best” after the Broncos’ win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the season finale and said “the wizardry you would have on the field was magnificent” with Payton’s teams. So, it’s safe to say he’ll be on board with this move. After a career-low 16 touchdown passes in a season when his team finished with the worst record (5-12) of any campaign of his career, Wilson will be ready to turn the page. When Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner said he wanted the new coach to bring a “culture of accountability,” Penner meant everybody, including Wilson, was going to have to be better in 2023. And Payton will be tasked with making that happen. , Legwold
The Saints now have a first-round pick. What is their biggest need and who could fit there?
The Saints’ biggest need by far is at quarterback. Andy Dalton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and while Jameis Winston has one year left on the two-year contract he signed in 2022, there’s no guarantee he’ll return to New Orleans. But at pick no. 29, I don’t have a late first-round grade on any quarterback in this class. They could pivot to look for upgrades on the defensive line. Keion White (Georgia Tech), Derick Hall (Auburn) and Tuli Tuipulotu (USC) could all be targets for New Orleans, which also owns the No. 40 overall pick early in Round 2. — Miller
How much power, beyond that of a head coach, will Payton wield?
Even as Penner cited the mistakes made this past season, including all of the things that led to Hackett’s firing, he has said Paton would have a significant role in the construction of the roster. Paton was also part of the group Penner had working on the coaching search. Payton has conveyed to the Broncos during the interview process that he is comfortable working with Payton. Both will answer to Penner, so he may have to settle an argument or two along the way, as the Broncos are poised to have what Penner had called a “traditional” setup with the head coach and general manager each answering to the owner. , Legwold
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