Franchise royalty — and former team executive — John Elway watched Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos string together a miserable 2022 season, which resulted in Nathaniel Hackett being fired after 15 games. With 2022 now in the rearview and Sean Payton in town, Elway feels that the Broncos are poised to right the ship.
Speaking to ABC 7 Denver, Elway expressed how Payton is an ideal fit for the Broncos.
“I am excited. He’s a perfect fit for where we are right now, where the Broncos are right now,” Elway said. “Obviously, he has a lot of skins on the wall. He won a Super Bowl before and won a ton of football games. I don’t think there could have been a better fit. I think he will be great.
“It’s going to take some time with a new system, new coaches, even though the spring was very good. The expectations are up there. But they have calmed the expectations compared to last year, which is good. We have to do better with injuries. Hopefully we can stay healthy.”
Elway also alluded to Payton’s “great feel” for coaching and developing quarterbacks as a plus for Wilson and Denver’s offense.
Denver acquired Payton — who took a year off from coaching after the 2021 NFL season and served as an NFL Studio Analyst for FOX Sports — and a 2024 third-round draft pick from the New Orleans Saints for the No. 29 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and its 2024 second-rounder in February.
Across his 15 seasons with the Saints (2006-11, 2013-21), Payton went 152-89 (63.1% winning percentage) as head coach, highlighted by winning Super Bowl XLIV. During his time in New Orleans, Payton coached quarterback Drew Brees, a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Across his four seasons as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator with the New York Giants (1999-2002), Payton coached Kerry Collins, who helped the team get to Super Bowl XXXV. Payton was then offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-05, where he was part of a coaching staff that signed future four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent, while also coaching Drew Bledsoe in 2005.
Denver is coming off a 5-12 season that saw Wilson, a Super Bowl champion and nine-time Pro Bowler, put together arguably the worst campaign of his career.
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Wilson totaled just 3,524 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 84.4 passer rating, while completing 60.5% of his passes in 2022. The passing touchdowns, passer rating and completion percentage were career lows for Wilson. Furthermore, the Broncos ranked last in the NFL in points per game (16.9).
Denver acquired Wilson and a fourth-round draft pick from the Seattle Seahawks last offseason for two first- and second-rounders, a fourth-rounder, tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock. The organization then double-downed on Wilson by giving him a five-year, $245 million extension before the 2022 season.
The hope is that Payton is the right man to help revive Wilson’s career.
“Sean has a great feel for the QB position,” Elway said. “He’s so knowledgeable on the offensive side. I think he knows what Russell will do the best. Like every good football team, we have to try to run the football and run it successfully. And if we do that, it gives Russell a much better chance to be successful in the passing game.
“[Wilson] is such a positive guy. I think he’s excited about it. With what was going on last year, a lot of different things, Sean brings in so much experience. I think Russell is looking forward to that coach to put him in the best position to be successful. … It was a tough year for him last year. But he’s positive and tough. He will bounce back, and I think he’s going to have a much better year this year.”
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