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Denver Broncos, Jim Harbaugh have ‘strong mutual interest’ in hiring

The Denver Broncos are willing to spend whatever it takes to land one of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2023. With Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh emerging as Denver’s top targets, the Broncos are positioning themselves well to land one of the best head coaches of their era.

Denver hired Nathaniel Hackett in 2022 without the Walton-Penner ownership group in place. After taking over full control of the NFL franchise, new ownership has begun making swift changes with one of the richest NFL owners quickly using their financial capital to improve things.

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The Broncos owners paid $400,000 to replace the grass field before Week 18 and they flew out many former and current players to attend the funeral services of former running back Ronnie Hillman. Now, after buying out the remainder of Hackett’s contract, ownership is letting candidates know it’s willing to make their choice one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL.

Denver’s aggressiveness is generating significant interest. Payton will interview with Broncos’ officials this upcoming week and the franchise already spoke to Harbaugh. While several other candidates have been interviewed, including Dan Quinn, there is early momentum with the Michigan Wolverines coach.

  • Jim Harbaugh NFL record: 44-19-1 in regular season, 5-3 in playoffs

Ian Rapoport reported Saturday on NFL Total Access that Denver and Harbaugh share a strong mutual interest. While a hiring isn’t guaranteed, the mutual desire for a partnership could make Harbaugh even more likely to become the next Broncos’ head coach.

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“As far as Harbaugh and the Broncos, there is some strong mutual interest here, guys. Not saying it’s going to happen, but at least both sides like each other.”

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Denver Broncos, Jim Harbaugh

Based on previous reporting that Payton is seeking a multi-year contract extension worth at least $20 million per year, Harbaugh’s asking price is expected to be similar. While it’s a historic salary for an NFL head coach, it’s a figure the Broncos are reportedly comfortable paying.

Related: Denver Broncos coaching interview tracker

Payton is widely regarded as the better offensive play-caller and quarterback guru. However, he is also still under contract with the New Orleans Saints. Denver is willing to pay the Saints’ asking price, but it’s a staggering cost that would further diminish the franchise’s already limited draft capital in the NFL Draft.

The Broncos could also face new competition for Payton. After blowing a 27-point lead and losing in the Wild Card Round, the Los Angeles Chargers could fire Brandon Staley. If he becomes one of the next NFL coaches fired, it’s widely believed that the Chargers’ vacancy is atop Payton’s wishlist and he might strongly prefer living in Los Angeles and coaching Justin Herbert.

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Even if Denver misses out on Payton, it remains well-positioned to land one of its top options. The mutual interest with Harbaugh and his desire to return to the NFL makes him one of the favorites to take over in Denver. Dan Quinn, who was a finalist in 2022, is also an emerging challenger to become the next Broncos’ coach.