It wasn’t hard to figure out what Sean Payton would be looking for when he began evaluating opportunities to return to the NFL as a head coach. In his role as an analyst on Fox, he made his top priority clear during appearances across the network’s various platforms.

A strong relationship with ownership and the rest of the team’s management structure, Payton said time and time again, was paramount. The vision for how to sustain winning, and the resources it would require, had to be aligned. In other words, it had to feel similar to what he experienced during so many winning seasons in New Orleans.

“That element is critical, the ownership element, philosophically,” Payton said during an in-studio interview with Fox Sports radio and TV personality Colin Cowherd in mid-January. “It’s hard to win in this league and it’s certainly harder to win in this league if there’s internal problems before you even play an opponent.”

The courtship process that ultimately ended with Payton becoming Denver’s next head coach lasted the better part of a month, starting with an exploratory phone call with CEO Greg Penner in early January and continuing with calls and meetings with other members of the ownership group in the weeks that followed. All the while, Broncos general manager George Paton and his counterpart in New Orleans, Mickey Loomis, began working on the draft compensation piece of the equation. Payton wasn’t going to take just any opportunity, signaling all along that he would be happy to return to his job at Fox if the right opportunity didn’t materialize, but he became impressed with the vision Denver’s ownership group laid out and began picturing himself back on the sideline.

“I was impressed with how much they want to be successful,” Payton told Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune, who covered the coach’s tenure in New Orleans.

In ways big and relatively small, from shelling out a record $4.5 billion to purchase the franchise last August to the $100 million it is putting into stadium upgrades this offseason to the $400,000 it spent to put a new turf field into Empower Field at Mile High for the regular-season finale, Denver’s ownership group has signaled its willingness to spend in the name of creating a winning environment. The contract offer they ultimately gave Payton was also no doubt substantial, though the terms of the deal are still unknown.