DeMeco Ryans may be smarter investment than Sean Payton for Broncos

If all the Broncos did was check boxes in the search for a coach to return our local NFL squad to Super Bowl relevancy, DeMeco Ryans would’ve already been disqualified and sent packing as a candidate.

Is he a quarterback whisperer guaranteed to solve the mystery of Russell Wilson? No, sir. As defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, has Ryans ever been in charge of a pro football team? Nope.

But if Broncos CEO Greg Penner and the franchise’s new ownership group were beholden to preconceived notions or haunted by the past, Sean Payton or Jim Harbaugh would’ve already been introduced as the next man in charge at team headquarters.

Hey, Broncos Country: Are you ready for some DeMeco Ryans football?

I’m not saying it’s a done deal, and won’t even pretend I’m in any position to declare Ryans the prohibitive favorite to land the gig here in Denver. Heck, Ryans can’t even interview with the Broncos again until after the Niners play Philadelphia on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Ryans, however, is the most intriguing candidate on Denver’s board, the rising star of this hiring cycle. As opposed to Dan Quinn, who once took Atlanta to the Super Bowl, or David Shaw, who won Pac-12 championships at Stanford, Ryans is the only one of the eight men who have interviewed for the job that Penner can claim as his “discovery.” Lack of experience by Ryans? The mistakes made on Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett are not sins for which new ownership should feel any responsibility.

Yes, I readily admit my first choice has been Payton, a sharp offensive mind whose Super Bowl ring and 161-97 overall record with the Saints are beyond reproach.

But I also know: While building a football champion is not the same as assembling a retail empire, the Walmart way is not to overpay for anything, from real estate to mops to the greeter at the front door of the store.

So I never bought the balderdash that just because the crazy-rich Waltons purchased the Broncos for a record $4.65 billion that the new owners would pay Payton or Harbaugh $20 million-$25 million per year merely because they could. Let me repeat: If either Payton or Harbaugh was arrogant enough to think he needed to be overpaid to coach in Denver, the Broncos had the wrong guy for the job.

Price is no object? There has never been a smart businesswoman or male entrepreneur who has ever thought that way about anything treated as a serious business enterprise instead of a shiny new toy.

So it’s hard for me to conceive how people as smart as Carrie Walton Penner or Rob Walton would give the thumbs up to handing Payton a blank check or letting the Saints rob Denver blind of future draft assets in return for the privilege of hiring a coach with a proven NFL record.

It makes me smile as I watched Payton try to leverage his friendship with media star Colin Cowherd to negotiate a sweetheart deal with the Broncos. While there can be an exception to any rule, billionaires can seldom be bluffed into a game of liar’s poker.

If Payton really wants this gig in Denver, and I hope against hope he still does, he will enthusiastically agree to tackle the RW3 reclamation project on the Broncos’ contract terms. If not, Payton can always go back and watch NFL games next season from a cushy chair in the Fox studios, while waiting for Jerry Jones or some greater fool to give him a call.

Building a winning culture, not feeding a coach’s ego, should be priority No. 1 for the Broncos.

If the price for Payton isn’t right, Ryans could be far more than a consolation prize.

In a quote getting plenty of play around these parts, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan gave a rousing endorsement of Ryans, who also is a top candidate for the head coaching position in Houston, where he originally caught Shanahan’s eye while distinguishing himself as a linebacker.

“It starts as a man,” said Shanahan, getting to the real nitty gritty of why he’s such a big believer in the 38-year-old Ryans. “He’s the ideal leader, whatever he does.”

San Francisco is a legit threat to win the Super Bowl, in no small part because it tapped the deep football resources of Colorado by tabbing Shanahan to coach, general manager John Lynch to construct the roster and running back Christian McCaffrey to tote the rock.

Sending Ryans to the Rocky Mountains could be the Niners’ way of doing Denver a solid.

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