Sean Payton has certainly made his stamp on the Denver Broncos, and it didn't take all that long. The Broncos are now merely weeks away from moving on from Russell Wilson, a player they just traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and multiple players for about 21 months ago. Oh, and Wilson is barely a year removed from signing a $245 million contract with $161 million in guaranteed money.
Aside from moving on from Russell Wilson, Payton has helped the Denver Broncos become a much better football team. Technically, at the time of this post being written, the Broncos have a five percent chance of making the playoffs. They beat the Chiefs in 2023 for the first time since 2015. They beat the Bills on the road for the first time since 2007. They won six out of eight games after starting 1-5 and were one game out of taking the AFC West division lead.
The Broncos have been better in almost every possible way this season. They are better on special teams. Their training staff has kept this roster mostly healthy. And Payton is the man at the top pulling all of the strings. So where does that leave general manager George Paton? I think there's a possibility that Paton and Payton could continue working together, but there's a chance Paton could find himself fired for three specific moves.
1. Firing Vic Fangio/Hiring Nathaniel Hackett
I think the obvious first move you have to look at is the decision to fire Vic Fangio and hire Nathaniel Hackett. Although there are a variety of bits of information out there to back this up, I think George Paton went against his better judgment when he fired Fangio and hired Hackett, but it was all part of a master plan.
It seems pretty clear that the goal of hiring Hackett was to lure Aaron Rodgers to Denver, and it almost worked. Unfortunately, the "almost" part of that led us to one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history. The new ownership group was so mortified by the horror of what they saw on the field in 2022 that they fired Hackett before the end of his first season.
At the end of the 2021 season, Fangio at least had the Broncos in the playoff race until Teddy Bridgewater went down with a season-ending injury. Every aspect of the team was worse in 2022 under Hackett's watch. And ultimately, that decision came down to George Paton taking big risk -- a swing and a miss.