The 2023 offseason hasn't been a quiet one for the Denver Broncos, yet in many ways, it has. While the Broncos made some huge moves, obviously, like trading for head coach Sean Payton and spending more than just about every other NFL team in free agency, the team was really all business this offseason and bordering on being closed off.
That all ended with Sean Payton delivering some of the best quotes you will ever see from an NFL coach. As a matter of fact, in terms of pure, brutal honesty, it has to be the best thing I've read or heard since the "Tebow speech" from when he was still playing at Florida.
The piece was written by USA Today's Jarrett Bell, and apparently, this was the post that Sean Payton chose to give us all literally everything we've been wanting all offseason. Since Payton was hired by the Broncos, we've been wanting him (or someone in charge) to tell us all what really went wrong in the disastrous 2022 season. Who is really to blame? Is Russell Wilson really 'cooked' or was last year a fluke? Was the coaching really that bad?
Well, we now have our answers, at least from Payton's point of view. Let's look at some of the highlights, although the piece is worth reading in its entirety. I got chills at times while reading it. My heart raced. It was the most excited about the Denver Broncos I have been since the team won the Super Bowl.
"I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team.- Sean Payton (via USA Today)
It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed. 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."
Regarding Russell Wilson, the coaching dynamic, and Russ' disastrous 2022 season, Payton finally gave us the endorsement for Russ we've all been waiting for. Up until this point, I don't think Payton has said anything bad about Russ, of course, but he has arguably been a bit more glowing in his endorsement of free agent acquisition Jarrett Stidham. There were members of the media, namely folks over at NBC Sports like Peter King, Mike Florio, and Chris Simms who also sort of got the sense that Payton liked Stidham a lot, and the interpretation they relayed was that Russ' leash might be a little shorter with how much Payton likes Stidham.
As to how the QB-head coach dynamic will work out, Payton dropped a familiar phrase for Broncos Country: "We're fixing to find out."
As for his thoughts on Russell Wilson in 2022?
"Oh, man. There’s so much dirt around that. There’s 20 dirty hands, for what was allowed, tolerated in the fricking training rooms, the meeting rooms. The offense. I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball.- Sean Payton (via USA Today)
He’s still got gas in the tank."
The honest, candid, harsh, true responses from Payton didn't stop there. The icing on the cake and the cherry on top?
"Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite...- Sean Payton (via USA Today)
...But everybody’s got a little stink on their hands. It’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was."
The Denver Broncos' struggles in 2022 are well-documented at this point. The new ownership was, as Payton put it, "embarrassed" enough to fire Hackett the day after Christmas, a complete debacle in Los Angeles against the Rams which not only ended in a blowout loss but also included Dalton Risner shoving backup quarterback Brett Rypien on the sideline, a microcosm of the team's lack of accountability from the coaching staff.
We saw when Jerry Rosburg came into the spotlight as the team's interim head coach even his disdain for the way Hackett was running things. He immediately fired a number of assistant coaches including offensive line coach Butch Barry. He gave Justin Outten play-calling duties offensively. He replaced punt returner Montrell Washington and benched him for the final two weeks of the season. he took tight end Albert Okwuegbunam off the bench and immediately restored his role in the offense.
One of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL? It might be harsh, but it's true. Hackett was just the fourth head coach in NFL history to be fired before the end of his first season with the team.
After all the debate last year, and even into this offseason, it's just great to finally have the validation of hearing Sean Payton say it. He may have said some of these things already in so many words, but this is direct, to the point, and brutally honest. It's also borderline cathartic to read it and hear that, for some of us, we weren't just crazy.
Obviously, Nathaniel Hackett is not a bad person, he was obviously just the complete wrong choice for the role of Denver Broncos head coach last year. Sean Payton is running things differently (or the opposite), and he's in a rare position to be able to bring this type of fire to the table. He's a Super Bowl-winning head coach who has averaged 11 wins per 17 games as an NFL head coach. It's rare that Payton's teams didn't have a top-10 offense. He is a future Hall of Fame coach, in all likelihood, and when he speaks up about something, he's probably right.
What he's confirmed through these quotes is that the Denver Broncos were not being run properly last year, and it affected everybody. Yes, blame must be shared. Players like Russell Wilson are not completely absolved. But I think after reading this, we can safely say that they are at least somewhat if not mostly cleared of all charges that were brought against them.
How different will things truly be under Sean Payton? Well, as he said, and as both Bill Parcells and Gary Kubiak used to say: We're fixing to find out.