Jim Harbaugh announced Monday that he will remain at the University of Michigan, removing himself from contention for the Denver Broncos’ head coach opening. It’s fair to wonder if he simply used the Broncos as leverage in discussions with Michigan.
With Harbaugh now out of the picture, Sean Payton is the highest-profile coach candidate remaining for Denver, and he has to be the favorite for the job, right?
The Broncos appear to be seriously interested in Payton, but much like Harbaugh, it might come down to how interested he is in them.
The Houston Texans have also interested Payton, and the Carolina Panthers plan to later this week. The diplomatic Payton has said positive things about both the Texans and Panthers publicly, and he has also hinted that remaining as an analyst at Fox could also be an appealing option.
Payton will have many options. Denver will be facing competition not only from other teams this year, but also from potential jobs down the road. If Payton decides to stay with Fox for another season, he would have just one year remaining on his contract with the Saints, hurting his trade value.
If Payton is available again in 2024, teams will know that they could just wait one more year before hiring Payton without having to complete a trade for his rights. That would make negotiating with New Orleans much easier because it would give teams leverage.
Payton might take that into consideration when he makes his decision. Joining a team that lost a late-round pick would obviously be much more appealing than joining a team that just forfeited an early-round pick. And if he waits long enough, he could join a team that didn’t have to give up any picks to acquire him.
So what happens if Payton chooses another team or chooses to stay with Fox for another year? Dan Quinn would presumably emerge as the favorite. He was a finalist for the job last year and he has worked with Broncos general manager George Paton in the past. Quinn has an in-person interview with Denver’s front office scheduled for Friday.
For now, though, Payton is the top name to watch. But as Harbaugh just demonstrated, being the top candidate doesn’t guarantee anything.