Sean Payton will be a smashing success in Denver. Yet, these Broncos aren't being universally celebrated as the biggest winner of the offseason. All of the negative takes on the team are about to get pretty cold. The critics are saying the Broncos gave up too much to acquire Payton from the Saints, or he won't be able to clean up last season's debacle, or Denver's hiring process was too messy and Payton wasn't the real first choice. Plus no one believes in Russell Wilson anymore.
Truth be told, Payton is in a perfect position to instantly reconstruct and turn around the Broncos. Here are 10 reasons why the franchise nailed this hire.
No. 1: Payton has done this before
In 2006, he took charge of a 3-13 Saints squad that was in even worse shape than these Broncos. In his first season as head coach, he led New Orleans to an NFC title game appearance. Three seasons later, he won Super Bowl 44.
Fans could argue that "BountyGate," Drew Brees' contract, and one significant officiating mistake limited Payton to a single championship. But he continued to win at a high level, and nobody matches his offensive success. According to statistics compiled by The Athletic, Payton's offenses ranked first overall in yards per game (392.4) and second in points (27.7) from 2006-21.
Most of the production came with Brees at quarterback. But he wasn't in high demand after five years with the Chargers and Payton helped transform Brees into a Hall of Famer. Payton was also able to modify the Saints' offense when Brees lost his arm strength, and keep the offense elite.
No. 2: Broncos' roster is underrated due to injuries
The league history books will lead the story of the 2022 Broncos with coach Nathaniel Hackett's bad decisions and Russell Wilson's struggles. But a more accurate picture also puts injuries in the first paragraph.
Denver doesn't have salary-cap space or draft picks. They might not be able to bring in many veterans from the outside. But that offense is adding an All-Pro left tackle in Garrett Bolles, a promising running back in Javonte Williams, and a solid No. 2 receiver in Tim Patrick. Three key pieces that endured early-season injuries in 2022.
Even Wilson dealt with shoulder and hamstring injuries, he and missed a game due to concussion protocols. He didn't look right when he had to take off and run. At 34, Wilson works as hard as anyone in the offseason and can get back to the level of durability he had for most of his time with the Seahawks.
Back in 2018, the 49ers had one of the most injury-ravaged seasons in recent memory, and finished 4-12. The following season? Key players returned, they finished 13-3, and ultimately reached Super Bowl 54. The Broncos can follow a similar path. Payton wanted this job because he realizes Denver isn't a 5-12 roster. Any coach could get more out of this group, and an outstanding coach like Payton can lead a 49ers-like turnaround.
No. 3: Russell Wilson wasn't that bad
It's natural for a quarterback to adjust to a new offensive system. He had to make adjustments, in primetime, in four of his first six games. By the end of the year, he was relegated to the 4 p.m. ET game window and actually snuck in some strong games. He cooked in the Broncos' two losses to the Chiefs, overtime loss against the Raiders, and Week 18 win over the Chargers.
Wilson's passer rating was over 100 in three of his last five games. He looked healthier and more in sync with his receivers, and that was with Hackett. Just imagine if that trend continues with Payton calling far superior plays.
No. 4: Who cares about the draft picks?
Giving up a 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder, while getting back a 2023 third-rounder, isn't a devastating cost. The player they would've taken at No. 29 in this year's draft, or a second-rounder next year, might've helped. But less than half of the players picked that late in the first round hit, and the odds are even worse in later rounds.
Payton and Wilson don't need to break in young players. They need guys who know what they're doing and have a track record at this level. Denver's in that championship window -- or, at least that playoff window. They don't have time for development.
No. 5: The other options were flawed
DeMeco Ryans is a perfect fit for the Texans -- he didn't make sense for the Broncos. Why would you bring in a 38-year-old defensive coordinator to fix a 34-year-old quarterback? Denver's defense is already promising, even after trading away Bradley Chubb last season.
The other offensive option, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, is a lot closer to Payton and he would've been closer. But the Broncos have new ownership that's committed to George Paton, who's made some quality draft picks as general manager. Do you really want to introduce Harbaugh into that mix?
Harbaugh doesn't seem to like general managers, and it could lead to tension this franchise can't afford. Plus, Harbaugh hasn't been in the NFL since 2014. He might've needed time to adjust, and Denver's in no position to be patient.
No. 6: Payton is a big enough name to reach Wilson
Denver brought in Hackett as part of a plan to land his buddy, Aaron Rodgers. Well, a 43-year-old offensive coordinator, with no head-coaching experience, wasn't a good fit for Wilson. Especially since Hackett developed a reputation as a player's coach. He came off as eager to please Wilson.
Wilson doesn't need a friend -- he needs to be coached, and coached hard. Payton has the gravity to fill that role, and Wilson's reportedly ready to listen to one of the NFL's great offensive minds.
No. 7: Payton is cutthroat
The NFL's decision to suspend Payton for a season due to "BountyGate" was ridiculous. But he did oversee a ruthless strategy that helped the Saints hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Payton seems like a nice person on TV, and has a good relationship with the media. But Payton is a Bill Parcells guy, through and through, and just like Bill Belichick. He won't mess around with players who aren't focused on winning. Payton practices tough love. He'll push Denver's culture in the right direction.
No. 8: Payton could bring friends
Even with financial limitations, Payton could attract some of his former players for a reasonable price tag. The Saints just restructured receiver Mike Thomas' deal, but now that Payton's coaching again, both teams could certainly figure something out. Thomas is a risk due to his injury history, but if he can stay on the field, he'd offer Wilson a security blanket he lacked desperately in 2022.
Payton has always loved Taysom Hill. The Saints' offense is in turmoil, and the Broncos should try to pry Hill away. Even if Wilson doesn't want anyone taking snaps from him, Hill was very effective in short-yardage run situations in 2022. He could also save some hits on downs when the quarterback has to run.
No. 9: Denver's homefield advantage
Denver sports teams have the best cheat code in sports. The opposing teams have been wearing down in the city's high altitude forever. As ugly as last year was, the Broncos were 4-4 at Mile High, compared to 1-7 on the road.
Payton took full advantage of playing home games indoors with New Orleans, and he'll figure out how to use Denver's altitude as a weapon. If he gets the offense moving, he's going to wear down every opposing defense. Can you imagine how far Taysom Hill can throw the ball in Denver?
No. 10: Who cares about the AFC West?
If Payton was going to avoid a division, it should be the NFC East. The AFC West is the most overrated division, not the most challenging. The Chiefs are obviously a perennial contender, but there's no way Payton is scared of the Raiders' Josh McDaniels or the Chargers' Brandon Staley.
We can't all make the same mistake we did last year. Turns out, there weren't four Super Bowl-level teams in the AFC West, especially in Denver. Until the Raiders and Chargers prove they're more than just a collection of high-end talent, the Broncos have a great chance to move up within the division.