Paul Klee: By hiring Sean Payton, Broncos try to buy their way back to NFL relevance

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Jan. 31—The Beatles lied. You can buy love.

Can the NFL's deepest pockets buy a winner?

The Broncos search committee of Rob Walton, Greg Penner, Carrie Walton Penner, Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton learned a valuable lesson in its first hire.

If a preferred candidate politely decides to wait out the process, throw a ton of money at him.

Boom! Coach hired.

The 19th coach of the Broncos is Sean Payton, 59, who could not possibly have been their first choice, or the deal that was finalized Tuesday would've been done three Tuesdays ago.

None of that matters. Payton is a seismic hire for Denver and a beleaguered Broncos Country.

The Broncos franchise required a visionary, and Walmart money brought Payton to Colorado.

A 37-day search ends with Payton, the jackpot of the hiring cycle, and his 152-89 record and Super Bowl XLIV ring as coach of the Saints. None of his 18 predecessors arrived with Payton's resume. None had a $245 million quarterback in need of fixing. None wore a visor.

These are rich times for Colorado sports and the fans impatiently waiting for the next parade.

Nikola Jokic is the most expensive player in the NBA, Nathan MacKinnon the most expensive player in the NHL, and Payton will be one of, if not the, most expensive coach in the NFL. Oh, and Deion Sanders is the most expensive coach in CU Buffaloes history.

The next team to play here should be called the Denver Mints.

And whoever opined that money isn't everything did not watch the Broncos offense in 2022 ... or 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2021. The Broncos scored the fewest points in the NFL in 2022.

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Here's where the Saints' offense ranked during Payton's 15 seasons there: No. 1, 4, 1, 1, 6, 1, 4, 1, 2, 1, 2, 8, 9, 12, 28. That's right: Payton designed a top 10 offense in 13 of 15 seasons.

The Broncos offense ranks behind paint drying.

Now, the fantastically rich ownership group is attempting to buy its way back to relevance.

The Walmart crew awarded Russell Wilson a quarter-billion-dollar contract extension before he played a snap at Empower Field at Mile High. Terms of Payton's contract were not released Tuesday, but call it a hunch Payton did not exit a cushy TV gig at Fox for Nate Hackett money.

Sean McVay reportedly makes $15 million-$18 million annually with the Rams, Bill Belichick $12.5 million with the Patriots, Pete Carroll and Kyle Shanahan around $9 million-$11.5 million with the Seahawks and 49ers, respectively. The Payton contract details will drop jaws at Dove Valley.

This is the M.O. when ownership has a net worth near $70 billion and paid $4.65 billion for the team.

Money is no object, a handy reminder when the stadium issue rolls around. Expect a palace.

Payton joins Mike Shanahan as Broncos coaches to graduate from Eastern Illinois. Previously, Charleston, Ill., was known for the original home of "Jimmy John's" and $5 pitchers at "Marty's."

For the coach-quarterback tandem of Payton and Wilson, the Broncos spent three first-round picks, three second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, Drew Lock, Noah Fant and Shelby Harris.

At least, they were able to keep Pikes Peak, Water World and the breakfast burritos at "Jalapeño's."

Can Sean fix Russ? If he can't, nobody can. Wilson will be 35 next season. When Drew Brees played in New Orleans from ages 35 to 38, he averaged 31 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and three times made the Pro Bowl. After his 39th birthday, Brees came in second in MVP voting.

Or maybe Russ is washed. In that unfortunate case, the Broncos secured a parachute by not sending their 2024 first-round draft pick to New Orleans as compensation for Payton. If it doesn't work with Russ, they draft a quarterback in '24 in a loaded draft class of quarterbacks.

The expectation for Payton and Wilson in 2023 should be, at the minimum, a playoff berth.

Now, we'll learn if money can buy NFL relevance.