By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press Thursday morning the Denver Broncos are finalizing a deal to hire Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was still in the works and the team hasn’t made an announcement.
Hackett’s hiring will bring immediate speculation about the Broncos trying to lure star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Denver, perhaps along with his star receiver Davante Adams, who is set to hit free agency in March.
Rodgers, who turned 38 last month in the midst of what’s expected to be his fourth MVP season, is contemplating his future, including retirement, after the Packers’ early exit from the playoffs last weekend when the top-seed was upset at home 13-10 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Hackett, 42, emerged as the front-runner on his own merits, however, which includes his stellar work with Blake Bortles as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator from 2016-18 before he went to Green Bay and helped Matt LaFleur win a record 39 games in his first three seasons as head coach.
Hackett, who is the the son of former college and NFL coach Paul Hackett, inherits a young, talented roster in Denver, where he flew in for a second interview on Monday. He was the only finalist to get a second in-person interview in Denver.
General manager George Paton interviewed 10 candidates to replace Vic Fangio, whom he fired after a disappointing 7-10 season, Denver’s sixth consecutive without a playoff berth.
After crisscrossing the country with a team of evaluators, Paton narrowed that list to three finalists: Hackett, Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Hackett would be the first Broncos head coach with offensive roots since Gary Kubiak, who stepped down after the 2016 season, one year after leading the Broncos to their third Super Bowl title. Vance Joseph went 11-21 in two seasons and Fangio was 19-30 in three years.
Despite a last-place finish in the competitive AFC West, the Broncos are seen as a rising team with the right head coach and a quarterback who can capitalize on a talented young offense that features receivers Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler, tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam and bulldozing running back Javonte Williams.
Some of those playmakers would undoubtedly get packaged in any deal for a veteran quarterback if the Broncos decide not to grab a quarterback in the draft, where the choices aren’t as enticing as usual.
Fangio’s unremarkable tenure was dotted by poor quarterback play, uncreative offenses that struggled to score 20 points a game under Pat Shurmur and sloppy special teams play under Tom McMahon, all of which negated a stout defense that was Fangio’s calling card.
The Broncos have had 10 starting quarterbacks and no playoff appearances since Peyton Manning’s retirement six years ago, and they are in the market for an upgrade at QB from oft-injured Teddy Bridgewater (7-7), who’s set to become a free agent in March, and Drew Lock (0-3) this offseason.
They’re also on the lookout for a new owner. Joe Ellis, the team’s outgoing president and CEO, said once a new head coach was in place he’d release details about the franchise’s future in what’s expected to be the most expensive team sale in U.S. sports history.
The Broncos are valued at nearly $4 billion and if sold for that much, it would surpass the record $3.35 billion that Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center in 2019.
John Elway, who is in the final months as the team’s president of football operations, and Manning, who’s lived in Denver since his retirement, are expected to get involved in the bidding as minority partners of billionaires competing to win the NFL’s approval to acquire the iconic franchise.
The Broncos won two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s with Elway under center and again in 2016 with Elway in the front office and Manning at quarterback in the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
The only holdover from their last championship parade is kicker Brandon McManus. Paton traded Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller to the Rams for a pair of second-day draft picks last fall and Miller has shined in his return to the postseason. The Rams host the 49ers Sunday in the NFC championship.
The second- and third-round draft choices the Broncos received in return for Miller give Paton 11 draft picks in April, including five of the top 100, which he could either use to beef up his roster or package to acquire a quarterback such as Rodgers or the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
Also interviewed for the Broncos head coaching vacancy were offensive coordinators Kellen Moore of the Cowboys, Brian Callahan of the Bengals and Eric Bieniemy of the Chiefs and defensive coordinators Aaron Glenn of the Lions and Jonathan Gannon of the Eagles, along with Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and Packers QBs coach Luke Getsy.
Getsy might draw interest from Hackett as his offensive coordinator in Denver.
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