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NFL Coaching Carousel: 49ers lose DeMeco Ryans to Texans, Sean Payton hired by Broncos

Only two head coaching spots remain unfulfilled.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Two AFC teams have filled their head coaching vacancies, and one of them snagged a top assistant from the NFC West.

The Houston Texans, who’ve fired three head coaches in as many seasons, may have finally found the long-term answer. Ex-Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans has left his job as San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator to return to Houston as head coach. Ryans has agreed to a six-year deal, and he’ll be tasked with reviving a team that has won only eight games over the past two seasons.

From 2006-2011, Ryans was a star player on Houston’s defense, including two Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro honors in 2007. After finishing his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ryans joined the coaching ranks as a 49ers assistant in 2017, becoming inside linebackers coach in 2018. When Robert Saleh took the New York Jets job, Ryans assumed the DC role and the 49ers defense finished 7th by DVOA in 2021 and numero uno this year. San Francisco gets a 2025 third-round comp pick since this was a minority hire for a head coach position.

Meanwhile in the AFC West, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is on his way to Colorado to coach Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos. Since Payton’s contractual rights belonged to New Orleans even after Payton stepped away from the team, the Broncos have given up their 2023 first-round pick (acquired from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb deal) and next year’s second-round pick and received a 2024 third-round pick in addition to Payton.

I don’t need to tell you Payton’s story because you already know he’s won a Super Bowl and famously lost as a double-digit favorite against the 7-9 Seahawks. He’s the best coach in Saints history and a brilliant offensive mind. Denver was an unmitigated disaster in 2022, which led to the Seahawks getting the 5th overall pick, and the unquestioned top focus for Sean Payton is fixing Russell Wilson after he had a career-worst year. Either we get something close to the Russell of old, or an irretrievably old Russell Wilson.

So for those of you who have long desired to see a world where Wilson is coached by an established offensive mind and not Pete Carroll or a legendary incompetent like Nathaniel Hackett, this is your moment. The Seahawks can’t squeeze any more picks out of the Broncos even if they tried, so any attention we pay to Denver from this point forward is no longer tied to Seattle’s draft picks. Hopefully Wilson can turn things around because I don’t want the end of his career to end like that.

The Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts are now the only teams without a new head coach.