Sean Payton knows a little something about reclamation projects. Nearly two decades after he rescued Drew Brees’ career following a torn labrum in the QB’s throwing shoulder, Payton has turned his attention to the revitalization of Russell Wilson. Like Brees, Wilson is an undersized passer, who thrives when he can roll out from behind his towering linemen.
On Thursday, Payton cut a promo for the 2023 season by critiquing his predecessor, Nathaniel Hackett, in unusually blunt terms during an interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell.
“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed,” Payton told USA Today. “And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much [expletive] time trying to win the offseason — the PR, the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff.
“We’re not doing any of that. The Jets did that this year. You watch. ‘Hard Knocks,’ all of it. I can see it coming. Remember when [former Washington owner] Dan Snyder put that Dream Team together? I was at the Giants [in 2000]. I was a young coach. I thought, ‘How are we going to compete with them? Deion [Sanders is] there now.’ That team won eight games or whatever. So, listen ... just put the work in.”
That jolt woke up the Jets and Broncos training camps. In case you’re wondering, the Broncos and Jets, where Hackett is now offensive coordinator, do face off on Oct. 8. This comment will be a major storyline in Week 5 and Aaron Rodgers won’t forget it. After Payton’s verbal nukes about Hackett reached Jets head coach Robert Saleh, he shot back with a verbal slingshot and referred to Payton as a “hater.”
The coaching fraternity is a tight-knit one and it’s unusual to see a former head coach speak so negatively about his predecessor — unless there’s a prior negative history. After a year of working in the media for Fox Sports, Payton is even more cognizant of how the media game works. Maybe he learned a little much from Colin Cowherd’s couch during his time away. Payton has to reach the postseason in 2023 at the bare minimum, because if the Broncos falter, he’ll never hear the end of it. It may also mean he was unable to repair Wilson’s glitchy coding.
2022 was one of the most disastrous seasons a bonafide superstar quarterback has ever had. It was reminiscent of Donovan McNabb turning into a pumpkin with the Redskins and probably worse because of the Super Bowl expectations heaped upon Denver.
For a while it seemed like Payton wanted us to get down to brass knuckles in 2023 and focus on football. Whether by design or coincidentally, Wilson has also been more discreet this summer. No Danger Russ Subway ads and no viral memes. What we do know is that he is noticeably leaner after carrying more bulk around than he had in past seasons. Consequently, he moved around in the pocket less often, he was slower when he did and Hackett’s offense stifled his pocket movement. If Sean Payton is unable to get the most out of Wilson, nobody can.
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