Denver hired Sean Payton to build a culture, not adapt to one. That means changes for Russell Wilson and the Broncos.

Three first-round draft picks. Two second round picks. Two solid NFL starters (Shelby Harris and Noah Fant) and two bar-setting contracts. That’s the premium the Denver Broncos paid for Russell Wilson and the recent supposed resurrector of his career, Sean Payton.

This represents one losing hand and a double-double to recover the losses. Broncos fans should be prepared for the white bumps that come along with it.

That’s not meant to cast a dark cloud over Denver’s Peyton deal on Tuesday. It was the best available move made under the less-than-ideal circumstances requiring a savior quarterback. Whether Payton is Denver’s first pick or not, it belongs in the history books. We may never know. All that matters now is that he’s in place, and the list of priorities ahead of him is crystal clear: At least for the next three seasons of Wilson’s $242 million contract extension, Payton must do everything he can to rebuild (reboot/reprogram/recalibrate ) his status as a viable Super Bowl contender. More specifically, Payton needs to showcase the abilities that helped him mold a pass-heavy offense early in Drew Brees’ career into a more balanced complementary scheme as Brees exited the league.

Can Peyton do this for Wilson? Definitely. Should there be a reality check on what this means? Absolutely.

The Russell Wilson-Nathaniel Hackett duo didn’t last a full season. It’s up to Sean Payton to improve the QB head coach partnership. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This will be difficult. It won’t be as simple as turning a key and expecting everything to change overnight. The upside here is that Peyton isn’t Nathaniel Hackett, so he comes in knowing what needs to be done to succeed. The downside is that Sean Payton isn’t Nathaniel Hackett, he actually is willing to do whatever it takes for the current roster and organization to succeed.

This means that it will be constructed and ruled in his image. And none of us know what might lead to it.

If 2022 has taught Broncos fans anything, it’s that expecting big results and actually getting them is hardly guaranteed. Five months ago, Denver’s future was hotter than the surface of the sun. Then the regular season started and the sun broke out, swallowing the entire season with it. Broncos Country and Wilson rode off a cliff together. It was an ill-fated ride that was largely (and rightly) blamed on the failings of Hackett, who didn’t seem to have the bandwidth to be an NFL head coach. Peyton has that in spades. This still does not guarantee that it will work.

Every head coach comes to a franchise bringing a wide array of ideologies with them. This ranges from how the front office should operate and secure talent, to what traits that talent should exhibit on a day-to-day basis, to opinions on communication, roster building, ownership involvement … it goes on and on. Aspects of “language learning” can be encyclopedic. That’s no small feat, especially when it comes to a head coach with years of success at a previous stop. This experience makes them stubborn about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why leaving culture often destroys franchises that replace new coaches every few years. The implications often run deep and headlong into personnel changes. Check out the latest Denver history. There is zero chance – zero — that’s not an adjustment under Peyton, who is hired to build the culture he knows, not adapt to the one he inherits.

Denver’s roster will change. While this happens every season, the hiring of elite-level coaches usually results in significant changes to the depth charts in the offseason between Year 1 and Year 2. Coaches like Payton know what players they want as leaders. They know what to expect in different skills. They have requirements when it comes to attitude, effort and other intangibles. The result of this is a change in the depth chart. Key players fall out of favor. Selected projects from previous years do not have the same level of commitment. Past free agent signings suddenly don’t fit the design of the changing landscape. There will be turnover. And it will create a revealing dynamic for how Payton and general manager George Payton (and Payton’s staff) function together.

There will be scheme changes, playbook changes, practice changes — the whole way players learn is now under scrutiny. Hackett was praised for having a fun style that entertained and connected his players on a personal level. Payton’s can be nice, but it’s also extremely expectation-driven and results-driven when it comes to cheerleading. He will push the players. He will spar with them. He will bury them on the bench. And when it comes time to be critical of who makes the cut and who doesn’t, he won’t always shy away from being honest in his assessments with the media.

Sean Payton has a big task ahead of him trying to resurrect Russell Wilson's greatness and turn the Broncos into a Super Bowl contender.  (Photo by Cooper Neal/Getty Images)

Sean Payton has a big task ahead of him trying to resurrect Russell Wilson’s greatness and turn the Broncos into a Super Bowl contender. (Photo by Cooper Neal/Getty Images)

This will be an important moment for Wilson. Regardless of how he plays, his $242 million contract extension will be a financial hurdle that must be negotiated. There is no realistic exit until after the 2025 season. That means that as far as the Super Bowl window is concerned — if one can be reached in the next three seasons — the Broncos are working with a quarterback who is worth the massive salary cap burden. This will not be the 2021 Los Angeles Rams with Matthew Stafford. This won’t be the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 with Nick Foles on a backup contract and Carson Wentz on a rookie contract. There is no flexibility to work with when it comes to hitting Wilson’s salary cap. So either he fits the bill and leads the team the way expected before 2022, or the law firm of Payton & Paton will be tasked with rebuilding a team and scheme that covers Wilson’s shortcomings long enough to get out of franchise.

Perhaps the return of Denver’s litany of injured players will help smooth that process in 2023. Perhaps Payton’s rebuilding of everything under the hood will help regain Wilson’s Hall of Fame momentum. Or maybe all of the Seattle Seahawks’ looming concerns turn out to be based on a reality that was hidden by the time Wilson moved on to the Broncos. Maybe he really is in a state of disrepair beyond repair, and all of this is far worse than a Hackett problem.

The answers to these mysteries are coming. Hiring Peyton ensures that. One way or another, something will change in this franchise, and whatever will go wrong in 2022. But thinking it will be an easy process is another mistake. And the Broncos should have learned their lesson about that over the last five months.

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