Sean Payton’s innovation and experience should help fix Russell Wilson

After an extensive search, Denver Broncos CEO Greg Penner found perhaps the first person he targeted to lead his franchise out of the doldrums in Sean Payton.

The veteran NFL head coach, who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, spent the past season as an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Payton’s biggest challenge with the fledgling Broncos will be fixing what ails Russell Wilson.

After acquiring Wilson in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks last offseason, the Broncos were expected to compete for the AFC West crown and possibly the Super Bowl. Instead, Denver finished at the bottom of the division at 5-12.

Wilson was the main culprit for the team’s struggles in 2022, prompting the new ownership group to fire head coach Nathaniel Hackett before the end of his first season. The nine-time Pro Bowler finished with career lows in completion percentage (60.5), touchdown passes (16) and passer rating (84.4) and was sacked with a career-high 55 times. The Broncos finished last in the NFL in points scored (16.9) and third downs converted (29.1).

Enter Payton, who proved to be one of the league’s brightest offensive minds in 15 seasons with the Saints. That’s why New Orleans was one of Wilson’s preferred trade destinations after the 2020 season. For years, Wilson has been compared to longtime Peyton protégé Drew Brees, given the quarterbacks’ similar size and stature. Payton and Wilson reportedly reached out before the Broncos made this latest deal.

Retired linebacker Brandon Mebane, once a teammate of Wilson’s in Seattle, believed Payton would be a good fit for his former quarterback.

“Pete [Carroll] knows how to communicate,” Mebane said. “He knows how to make you go through a wall and you didn’t even know you went through that wall.

“I feel like the closest coach that can run a system and adjust to Russ is Sean Payton. I think he would be the best fit for Russ. Russ and Drew Brees are the same height. Russ might have a better hand.’

FOX NFL analyst Sean Payton will become the Broncos’ next head coach

FOX NFL analyst Sean Payton will become the Broncos' next head coach

Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wilds discuss the news that the Saints and Broncos have agreed to terms that will send coach Sean Payton to Denver in exchange for draft compensation.

Wilson and Brees, of course, are different quarterbacks and different athletes. But Payton’s track record suggests he’ll not only hold Wilson accountable, but also find the seamless plays the aging star has made for so long.

“I’d like a breakdown of all of Russell’s past plays 30 or more yards down the field and I’d like to see if there are any schemes that he’s comfortable with,” Payton said during a recent appearance on “The Herd” with Colin Coward . “I know they did a great job in Seattle of getting him out of a bare boot and then pulling him. We’ve all seen this throwback to [Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air.

“Then I’d like to see another film of his touchdown passes in the red zone. What I want from the assistants is some of his greatest hits, and then make sure we have some of those lyrics. if not, let’s put them.”

During Payton’s final five seasons with the Saints, his offenses finished in the top five in scoring four times. That includes extended stretches with Teddy Bridgewater and Tysum Hill starting at quarterback. So Payton knows and understands how to coach an offense and design schemes to get the best out of his players and variety of signal-callers.

Broncos-Saints finalize deal for Sean Payton as next head coach

Broncos-Saints finalize deal for Sean Payton as next head coach

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Hellman react to breaking news.

The Broncos already have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They don’t have a lot of available cap space due to the trades for Wilson and now Payton, but they do have about $9.5 million in salary cap space, according to Over the Cap.

After a nightmare season under Hackett, the new ownership group wisely invested in an experienced head coach to guide this once proud franchise back to its winning ways. Their playoff drought, dating back to their Super Bowl 50 win, is the second-longest in the entire league.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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