That the Broncos have competition in the pursuit of San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is no surprise.
The 38-year-old is considered by sources to be at or very near the top of Denver’s candidate list for its open head coaching position. On Friday, the NFL Network reported Ryans is also a top choice for Houston and that he and the Texans are eyeing a potential second interview next week after the 49ers play in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
The fact that Ryans is drawing interest from Houston doesn’t make him a less attractive option for Denver, but a source with knowledge of the Broncos’ process told The Post it’s unclear how long the Broncos’ search committee — headed by CEO Greg Penner and general manager George Paton, among others — is willing to wait on a decision. It’s also unclear what their next step is if Ryans accepts an offer by Houston.
Ryans played the first six years of his career for the Texans, became an All-Pro there, is among the franchise’s most revered players and has family connections to the area, as well. Houston also has two first-round draft picks each of the next two years and enters this offseason with about $20 million more in cap space than Denver. That’s a strong pull.
The Broncos have essentially a ready-made defense including elite secondary talent in cornerback Pat Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons.
“I can sell this roster,” Paton said in December. “We have a bunch of good young players.”
Penner, part of the NFL’s wealthiest ownership group, said during the same news conference that his next coach will have “every resource” necessary to be successful.
Which will prevail for Ryans? He held his initial interview with Houston virtually on Jan. 21, one day after meeting in person with the Broncos in the Bay Area.
While Ryans and the Texans look to a second interview, the Broncos have not held a formal second round of interviews but have kept in touch with candidates and candidates’ agents throughout the week.
It’s a familiar position for the Broncos but with a slight twist. A year ago, Nathaniel Hackett’s Green Bay Packers lost in the divisional round, while Kevin O’Connell’s Los Angeles Rams advanced to the NFC title game. That left Hackett open for a second-round interview in Denver, which he completed Tuesday before the championship games. But the Broncos would have had to wait until after those games to talk again with O’Connell.
Instead, they decided on Hackett not long after a report surfaced that he also had a second interview upcoming with Jacksonville.
After Hackett’s hire, Paton told The Post that O’Connell, “would have been in the mix,” had the Rams lost, but they felt good about Hackett and didn’t want to risk losing him to the Jaguars or another team if they waited too long. The Vikings hired O’Connell.
Denver showed more patience this year, but now must weigh the risk of waiting several more days for Ryans and then potentially ending up without a preferred candidate available if he chooses the Texans.
The Broncos’ next move, then, will tell much about the confidence level in beating out Houston for Ryans’ services.
If Ryans chooses the Texans or Denver decides it’s done waiting, where will attention turn? Sean Payton remains in the picture and has been all along. The Broncos were the first team to get permission to speak with him and the first team to interview him in person. Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh have both publicly taken their names out of the running for NFL jobs, but they at various points of the process were considered to be strong candidates in Denver. If Ryans comes off the board, Penner and Paton could circle back just to make sure.
After that trio, all of whom were identified almost immediately as potential contenders for the job, the Broncos would be working down their list of potential candidates. The others who interviewed for the job — defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, former Indianapolis and Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell and former Stanford head coach David Shaw — were all considered by league sources to be on the outside looking in as Denver narrowed its search this past week. Denver could work back through those options or even widen the lens further and try to identify new candidates if necessary.
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