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Broncos’ top 10 candidates to replace Nathaniel Hackett

Nov 21, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on  the sidelines against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos helped the franchise get a head start on its search for its next head coach by laying a Christmas Day egg in a 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Nathaniel Hackett’s future likely was sealed before the embarrassing loss to the reeling Super Bowl champions on national television. But the complete meltdown on the field and on the Broncos’ sideline on Sunday prompted CEO Greg Penner to make the move official on Monday with two games remaining in the team’s disastrous 4-11 season.

Who will take over the job now becomes the burning question.

The Broncos’ have one of the league’s elite defenses, despite what transpired against the Rams. The problem is the offense, which is led by a 34-year-old quarterback enduring by far his worst NFL season.

Denver sent a significant package of players and draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Russell Wilson, then committed $245 million to him, but Wilson never looked comfortable in Hackett’s offense. So the immediate attention turns to who might be able to provide a better fit for Wilson and help the Broncos turn around what has devolved into the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense at 15.5 points per game.

Broncos’ Top 10 Coaching Candidates for 2023

1. Sean Payton, FOX Sports analyst and former Saints coach
The quick-twitch choice is Payton, who won a Super Bowl in New Orleans with a dynamic offense led by an undersized quarterback in Drew Brees.

Payton reportedly has assembled the majority of his staff with an eye on returning to the sideline next season. The big catch when it comes to Denver? Payton’s defensive coordinator pick is reportedly Vic Fangio, the Broncos’ former head coach who was fired after the 2021 season.

Payton is expected to be a leading candidate for several vacancies. The Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers already fired their head coaches and more openings are expected to follow as the regular season concludes.

2. DeMeco Ryans, 49ers defensive coordinator
The longtime NFL linebacker has established himself as one of the most respected coordinators in the league. Ryans replaced Robert Saleh, who took the New York Jets’ head coaching job in 2021, and San Francisco has clinched the NFC West title on the strength of the league’s top-rated defense.

Ryans would need to identify a strong offensive coordinator. He potentially could pluck from the 49ers’ staff to provide Wilson with a Kyle Shanahan-style scheme.

3. Shane Steichen, Eagles offensive coordinator
Philadelphia has the best record in the NFL thanks to what Denver is lacking — balance. In addition to the No. 2-ranked defense, the Eagles’ offense is led by MVP candidate Jalen Hurts.

Hurts is a dual threat, similar to what Wilson was in his earlier NFL years. Wilson has lost a step in his mid-30s, but perhaps Steichen can provide a scheme that better suits Wilson’s strengths and gets him on the move while getting the ball out quicker.

4. Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator
Moore has been on the radar of NFL teams for the past few head coaching cycles. With defensive coordinator Dan Quinn another strong candidate to eventually take over for Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, now might be the time for Moore to finally move into a head coaching role elsewhere.

5. Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator
Quinn was strongly considered by the Broncos last offseason. Granted, the ownership group has changed since then and made the massive financial commitment to Wilson.

However, Quinn does have previous NFL head coaching experience with Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the Super Bowl, and would have a strong list of offensive coordinators to consider.

6. Eric Bienemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
The annual Bienemy watch begins again. He has been on the short list for numerous teams the past few years, but has yet to land a head coaching job. That’s in part because many credit the Chiefs’ offensive prowess to coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Could the Broncos finally be willing to give the former Colorado Buffaloes standout his shot while also plucking a highly respected coach from a division rival?

7. Brian Callahan, Bengals offensive coordinator
The Bengals are making another strong playoff push coming off last year’s Super Bowl appearance. It certainly helps to have an offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow and a bevy of playmakers.

Callahan has been credited with getting the most out of that group, and Denver does have a potentially elite receiving corps that includes Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.

8. Frank Reich, former Colts coach
On one hand, Reich’s downfall in Indianapolis was predicated by multiple failed experiments to get the Colts “over the top” with veteran quarterbacks who didn’t pan out. On the other, Reich once turned Carson Wentz into an NFL MVP candidate in Philadelphia.

Reich is highly respected in NFL circles and might be an excellent fit for Denver after learning from his first head coaching experience in Indy.

9. Ben Johnson, Lions offensive coordinator
The Lions pulled themselves off the mat and rallied into the playoff conversation thanks to their offense. While Detroit’s defense ranks last in the NFL in allowing an average of 26.7 points per game, the offense is fourth overall and fifth in points scored.

Johnson, 36, has been an NFL assistant since breaking in with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. After a decade in various roles in Miami and Detroit, he took over the Lions’ offense this year and the results have opened many eyes around the league.

10. Mike Kafka, Giants offensive coordinator
Another first-year coordinator, Kafka was given the keys to the playcalling shortly before the season started under the tutelage of Giants coach Brian Daboll. A former journeyman NFL quarterback, Kafka has helped unlock Daniel Jones’ potential in New York and could be seen by Broncos management as the type of sparkplug Wilson needs.

One potentially significant drawback is that at 35, Kafka is only 16 months older than Wilson.

–Field Level Media