DENVER — Then there were two.
The Broncos and Eagles remain the only teams with open defensive coordinator positions.
Broncos coach Sean Payton has kept his promise, employing a deliberate approach in his search for coaches.
There are five known candidates for the Denver job, and there was interest in a sixth, Eagles 29-year-old linebackers coach Nick Rallis, who followed Jonathan Gannon to the Cardinals this week.
That leaves Rex Ryan, absent from the NFL since 2016, Vance Joseph, the former Broncos head coach, Sean Desai, the Seahawks assistant head coach, Kris Richard, last a co-defensive coordinator for the Saints, and former Lions coach and Patriots assistant Matt Patricia.
Patricia interviewed on Wednesday with the Broncos. If he doesn't land the DC job, it's possible he joins the staff as a position coach.
Ryan received buzz as the slight favorite entering his second interview on Saturday, but left Colorado without a contract.
Joseph interviewed at length last week in Denver, and remained hopeful. However, he kept his options open and did the first of a two-day interview process with the Eagles on Wednesday. Joseph and Ryan are considered the top candidates, according to industry sources.
Philadelphia, according to CBS Sports, has requested permission to interview Desai.
And Richard has been available for multiple weeks, casting him as a dark horse, even though he previously coached with Payton in New Orleans, suggesting there might be a spot on staff even if he's not the DC.
It creates an interesting question: Will Payton turn to Ryan, an accomplished coordinator with a resume of top 10 defenses? Or will the Broncos defensive boss be the coach not hired in Philadelphia — meaning Joseph or Desai?
Ryan boasts a history of terrific defenses as a coordinator in Baltimore from 2005-2008 and during his time with the Jets (2009-20014), before his units tailed off with the Bills. He is known for his elevated blitz rate, multiple formations, like dropping eight players in coverage or having the entire defensive line stand up in passing downs.
Last Saturday represented Ryan's second interview with the Broncos. Is he ready to return to the grind at age 60? And is Denver the perfect situation, something he reportedly told ESPN was necessary to leave his broadcasting gig at the network? During the coaching search, Ryan predicted that Sean Payton would not take the Denver job because of the obstacles, and now Ryan is aiming to join his staff.
Joseph, 50, posted an 11-21 record as the Broncos head coach from 2017-18. While he was set up to fail in many ways with empty drafts, a coaching staff not of his choosing and an aging roster, Joseph bore the brunt of the criticism during his time in Denver. His defenses in Arizona were inconsistent, excelling particularly in 2021 and bottoming out last season, with only the Bears allowing more points.
Desai, 39, learned for years with the Bears under Vic Fangio. In his lone season as a defensive coordinator in 2021, the Bears were solid, ranked sixth in yards allowed, third in passing yards and 23rd against the run. With the coaching staff overhauled in Chicago, Desai landed in Seattle last season.
Richard, 43, was a surprise dismissal by the Saints after the season. This offseason he has interviewed for DC jobs with Denver and the Dolphins, who hired Fangio. Richard served as the Saints' defensive backs coach in Payton's last season coaching.
The Broncos arrive at the scouting combine next Monday, so it's fair to expect the coordinators will be in place by then. The offensive coordinator's job has not received as much attention because Payton will call plays. Joe Lombardi, Anthony Lynn and Ronald Curry have been linked to the job this offseason, though Curry chose to remain with the Saints.
Tag, you're it
The window to franchise tag players opened on Tuesday. The Broncos only have one candidate in defensive end Dre'Mont Jones.
The Broncos want him back, but at what price? The franchise tag ranges between $18.9 million as a defensive tackle and $19.7 million as a defensive end.
The Broncos have until March 7 to place a tag on Jones, which would give them until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. There's no guarantee it happens.
It's possible the Broncos will let Jones test the market, which has a soft opening on March 13. A multi-year deal could land somewhere between $14 million to $16 million annually.
Jones, 26, has averaged six sacks and 10 quarterback hits per season over the last three years.
He has kept an open mind about returning to Denver, telling Denver7 recently that he was "excited to see what (Payton) will do," and that he "trusted the Walton Penner group."
Jones is one of 16 Broncos free agents.