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Front-runner reportedly emerging to land Sean Payton in 2023

Sean Payton is one of the most coveted NFL coaching candidates in 2023, fielding interview requests from around the league. As the competition to land the legendary head coach heats up, a favorite is reportedly emerging.

The New Orleans Saints received requests to interview Payton from all five NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies. Three clubs received permission, with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals among those preparing to formally sit down with the current NFL analyst.

Payton is seeking a specific situation, fully aware the next coaching job he accepts will likely be his last in the NFL. While he is days away from holding face-to-face interviews, an early front-runner has reportedly emerged to land him.

According to Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the Broncos have emerged as the early front-runner for Payton. Denver’s situation is specifically appealing to Payton, who likes the stability of ownership and recognizes an opportunity to turn the franchise around.

Related: Denver Broncos ‘willing’ to pay New Orleans Saints’ price for Sean Payton trade

It’s far from being the only job on Payton’s radar. He has been linked to the Los Angeles Chargers for months, wanting to both coach Justin Herbert and live in Los Angeles. If the Dallas Cowboys lose in the Wild Card Round and Mike McCarthy is fired, the Dallas Cowboys are also expected to make an aggressive run at Payton.

Denver would be a bit of a gamble for Payton. He would take over a franchise that just experienced Russell Wilson displaying signs of regression this season. Once viewed as a future Hall of Famer, the 34-year-old quarterback is now a reclamation project that his next head coach will be tied to.

Related: Denver Broncos head-coaching interview tracker

Cost of hiring Sean Payton for Denver Broncos

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Hiring Payton is going to be far more expensive for Denver than any other option. While Jim Harbaugh wants to become one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL, tabbing him as the replacement for Nathaniel Hackett doesn’t require the Broncos to compensate the Michigan Wolverines.

It’s very different with Payton. New Orleans still holds his contractual rights for two years and they won’t part ways with him freely. If Denver wants Payton, it will need to sacrifice a future first-round pick along with additional assets.

The Broncos traded their original 2023 first-round pick to acquire Wilson, but they do own the San Francisco 49ers’ first-round selection. However, New Orleans will likely be offered a pick higher in the draft order, especially if the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.

Realistically, Denver will need to part with a first-round pick and a Day 2 selection with the Saints pushing for a second-round pick. Considering the lack of draft capital the Broncos are already working with, it creates a more difficult evaluation regarding the total cost of hiring Payton.

Related: Sean Payton expected to receive a massive contract

New ownership is reportedly willing to spend whatever it takes to land its top option and that appears to be Payton as of now. As the Broncos coaching search unfolds, though, Harbaugh or Dan Quinn could gain steam with general manager George Paton’s influence helping sway the final decision.