The Denver Broncos were fortunate to be able to land Sean Payton as their head coach. Is it tough that it cost the team a first-round pick to trade for Payton? Absolutely. The Broncos had to jump through hoops to get Payton to Denver, including signing him to a contract that is likely one of the biggest among head coaches in the entire NFL right now. Apparently, the Los Angeles Chargers weren't willing to go through those hoops despite many people calling their shot from a mile away that Payton would become the next head coach there after their playoff debacle vs. Jacksonville.
As soon as the clock hit zeroes on the Chargers' 2022-23 season, people began speculating that Payton would replace Brandon Staley, who was certain to be fired...until he wasn't. There was so much speculation at the time that reporters sort of indicated that the Denver Broncos didn't even have a chance. It was assumed that the Broncos would be one of the least-desirable jobs to many candidates because of Russell Wilson, when in fact, the opposite is true. The Broncos' stable ownership under the Walton-Penner group was extremely attractive to prospective coaches, especially Sean Payton.
Payton had noted all along in the interview process (while he was still working in the media with FOX) that ownership was a major priority for him, which is why it's hard to believe talking head Stephen A. Smith at face value when he says 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.
Ultimately, none of this matters now, but you can understand why Payton would want that job from a player personnel standpoint. The chance to coach Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams...the Chargers have some good weapons and seemed to be a "coach away", as they say. But it wasn't meant to be. The Chargers -- Dean Spanos -- have a long history of ownership not doing enough to make the team as competitive as possible. There's some irony here in that regard, isn't there?
Chargers owner Dean Spanos is being sued by his own sister for "mysoginistic" and "financially ruinous" business practices, which doesn't exactly scream stability at the top. The allure of coaching Justin Herbert only goes so far when you look back at how important ownership was in the equation for Sean Payton. This hiring process for him went much deeper than a depth chart, which obviously Stephen A. Smith and many others fail to realize.
Would he have preferred to stay in LA and coach? Perhaps, but I think the more likely scenario there was him swapping seats with Sean McVay and the Rams. There were rumors that McVay could retire and get a gig working in TV for $20 million per year or something crazy like that. But McVay stuck around. And Payton's desire to get back into the NFL left him with only a few options in 2023: Denver, Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis, and Carolina.
It's a good thing the Broncos got into this cycle, because they didn't really have a ton of competition for Payton's services. Not legitimate competition anyway. With ownership being such a big deal, the timing was also fortuitous for Denver to get the sale of the team finalized last year and the Walton-Penner ownership group in place for a full year to run things and essentially audition themselves for a high-profile coach like Payton.
It wouldn't have been surprising to see Payton end up in Los Angeles this offseason, but there was always more there than meets the eye.