Sean Payton introduced as Broncos head coach, discusses plan for QB Russell Wilson
Sean Payton was officially introduced as Denver Broncos head coach on Monday at the team’s headquarters in Englewood, Colorado, and it didn’t take long for the Russell Wilson question to arise.
The Broncos paid Wilson considerably last year. They’ve now reportedly paid Payton a massive contract as well. Both men cost significant draft-pick capital. There’s no question that Payton — at least in part — is being brought in to fix the problems that plagued Wilson and a Broncos offense that scored the NFL’s fewest points during a 5-12 campaign in 2022.
So does Payton believe Wilson is fixable?
“Look, there (are) a couple positions — quarterback is certainly one of them in our league — that get scrutinized very well,” Payton said Monday. “Obviously (last season) wasn’t the type he wanted to have. I do feel like the last couple of weeks we saw a little bit more of what we were expecting or accustomed to.”
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Payton leaned back on an old coaching axiom for how he plans to coach Wilson and the team at large.
“I think the No. 1 job for us as coaches in evaluating our players is (determining): What do they do really well? And then, let’s try to put them in those positions,” he said. “At least that’s a starting point, and I think that’s important to highlight their strengths and also to minimize any weaknesses.”
Payton coached the Saints from 2006 to 2021. In that span, working mostly with QB Drew Brees, New Orleans ranked below 12th in either yards gained or points scored in only one of those seasons — 2021, the first season after Brees retired.
Wilson started 15 of the Broncos’ 17 games last season after being traded from the Seahawks, taking a career high in sacks (55) and registering career lows in TD passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5).
“Here’s what I know: (Wilson is) a hard worker,” Payton said. “I know he’s an extremely hard worker. That’s important. And I think you take that skillset, he’s won a lot of games in Seattle. … Then you go from there.”
Payton said he and the eager Wilson have spoken as have Brees and Wilson, who live close to each other in California. Payton even joked that Brees told him, “Russell is wearing me out” with phone calls and texts.
But when the subject turned to the special perks Wilson received upon arrival in Denver, such as reportedly having his own office in the facility and having his own personal performance team be allowed inside team headquarters, Payton’s answer turned serious and was telling — and perhaps a sign of things to come under his watch.
“That’s foreign to me,” Payton said, via the Denver Post’s Parker Gabriel. “That’s not going to take place here. I’m not familiar with it, but our staff will be here, our players will be here and that’ll be it.”
Payton stepped down as Saints head coach last season, working as an analyst for FOX Sports during the 2022 season. The Saints and Broncos needed to work out a trade before he could join the Broncos, and general manager George Paton said Payton would have joined the team sooner had there not been the compensation element to the deal.
Despite the massive investment required to get Payton on board in Denver, Broncos owner/CEO Greg Penner — making his first head coaching hire — said that above all else it was important to the team to get the right person for the job.
“Sean Payton is an outstanding leader and Super Bowl champion with a brilliant offensive mind,” Penner said. “He shares our commitment to winning championships for Broncos Country and we’re excited to welcome him as our new head coach.
“Sean knows how to build a championship culture with high expectations. He coaches with intensity and attention to detail while setting and maintaining high standards. Sean pours his heart and soul into winning with preparation, creativity and a genuine love of the game.”
Penner also was asked about the Broncos courting DeMeco Ryans, who eventually ended up taking the Texans’ head coaching position, and other candidates concurrently while they interviewed Payton. Downplaying the report, Penner said Payton became the team’s focus nearly a week prior to the trade being finalized.
“That wasn’t the case,” Penner said. “We met with a number of great candidates through the process, but once we locked in with Sean about five or six days before we got the trade done with the Saints, our focus was entirely on him and closing that.”
Payton, who interviewed for four NFL head coaching vacancies this offseason, also dismissed the idea that he had reservations with the organizational structure, whether that was with any members of the ownership group or with Paton.
“I had a chance to spend time with four clubs,” Payton said. “I knew there was serious interest. What I was looking for existed in one place (Denver), based on my exposure with the other teams.”
The Broncos’ coaching search spanned 39 days total, from when Nathaniel Hackett was fired after one season in Denver back on Dec. 26 to when the Broncos announced the Payton trade on Feb. 3. Penner said that league rules and “the complexity of Sean’s situation with the Saints” contributed to the length of the search, but that it ended in the ideal result for the franchise.
“Where we ended up,” Penner said, “is with the perfect coach for the Denver Broncos.”
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