Kiszla: While Sean Payton struck it rich with Broncos, did DeMeco Ryans win better job in Houston?


While Sean Payton got big money from the crazy-rich Waltons to coach the Broncos, DeMeco Ryans won the coaching sweepstakes by landing the better job in Houston.

Although the Broncos and Texans bring identical 6-5 records to a game Sunday with huge playoff implications for this season, which of these teams is closer to winning the Super Bowl down the road?

You tell me: Would you rather build a championship contender around two established NFL veterans in quarterback Russell Wilson and Payton, each with a championship on distinguished resumes, or 22-year-old rookie C.J. Stroud and Ryans, in his first-year as a head coach?

Advantage, Texans.

Money can’t buy you love or a championship ring.

And a glorious history of football success can sometimes be more of a burden than a proud legacy.

Let’s roll back the calendar to early 2022, when the Broncos had fired Vic Fangio as coach after a 7-10 record and the Texans were reeling not only from a 4-13 finish, but allegations of sexual misconduct against quarterback Deshaun Watson that had kept him off the field.

In a hurry to restore their glory rather than commit to the pain of rebuilding the team, Broncos general manager George Paton hired Nathaniel Hackett as coach and flirted with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers before mortgaging the team’s future in March 2022 by trading a boatload of draft choices and three players for Wilson and a mid-round draft choice.

Less than a week later, the Texans decided to tear down their mess and broom away the stench by sending Watson and a sixth-rounder to Cleveland in return for a half dozen draft picks, including three future first-rounders.

What have we (myself included) learned from this cautionary tale?

In the NFL, a proud franchise itching for a quick fix doesn’t necessarily chart a faster path to championship relevancy than a woebegone team willing to swallow hard and stomach the indignity of getting worse before results on the scoreboard begin to get better.

The Broncos and Texans were so horrendous on the field last season that neither Nathaniel Hackett in Denver nor Lovie Smith in Houston earned a second year to fix the problems.

The major difference? The Texans owned two of the top three picks in the draft held during the last week of April. Houston took Stroud, who’s enjoying the most promising rookie season of any quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012, and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., among the top three candidates for defensive rookie of the year.

You think Ryans would switch jobs and salaries with Payton?

The salary? No doubt. But the job? No way.

Earlier this year, Broncos CEO and Walmart chairman Greg Penner seriously wooed Ryans before luring Payton off the Fox television set with a salary reported to be a hefty $18 million, making him the second-highest-paid coach in the league, behind only Bill Belichick of New England.

When Denver started this season 1-5, all that money in addition to a first-round draft choice sent to New Orleans in a trade, appeared to be an exorbitant price to pay for Ornery Sean. And it appeared to be especially costly if you believe the theory Payton was a consolation prize for the Broncos, after they seriously considered Jim Harbaugh from Michigan and Ryans, whose football and family ties to Texas made him a natural fit for Houston.

After leading Denver to five consecutive victories, Payton has restored the optimism to Broncos Country and become a coach of the year candidate alongside Ryans. Although both are likely fighting for second place in that race, behind prohibitive favorite Dan Campbell, who has transformed the Detroit Lions from a laughingstock to an NFC juggernaut.

Nobody, least of all me, could’ve anticipated a month ago that this showdown between Denver and Houston could be the most intriguing football game played by the Broncos since Super Bowl 50.

But even more compelling: This is the first chance to chart the progress of two NFL franchises that took vastly different approaches in the desperate pursuit of victory and respect.

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