Broncos’ Blockbuster Trade for Sean Payton Will Revive Franchise, Russell Wilson


Sean Payton

Sean PaytonAP Photo/Alex Brandon

The Denver Broncos have found the answer to uplift their proud franchise and star quarterback, Russell Wilson, who’s coming off his worst NFL season. His name is Sean Payton.

On Tuesday, the Broncos came to an agreement on a trade deal with the New Orleans Saints for Payton, who’s under contract with the latter club. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Denver will send a 2023 first-round pick (via the San Francisco 49ers) and its 2024 second-rounder to New Orleans for Payton and a 2024 third-rounder.

The Broncos had a busy Tuesday.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they pursued DeMeco Ryans before he accepted the Houston Texans’ head coaching job. In the end, Denver landed the far more accomplished head coach to turn around a team that just missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season and hasn’t posted a winning record since 2016.

While Denver may have shown strong interest in Ryans, who’s a first-year lead man, it gets a Super Bowl-winning head coach who has an impressive track record with an undersized quarterback in Drew Brees, who stood at about 6’0″. For comparison, the Broncos’ official website lists Wilson at 5’11”, 215 pounds.

With Brees as his starting quarterback in New Orleans, Payton won at least 10 games in nine out of 15 seasons (excludes 2012 because of a yearlong suspension) and a Super Bowl title in the 2009 campaign. In that stretch between 2006 and 2020, Brees became a perennial Pro Bowler, had an All-Pro year in his first season under Payton and took home the Super Bowl 44 MVP award.

Wilson already has put together nine Pro Bowl campaigns and won a Super Bowl. At 34 years old, he’ll try to bolster his resume, which would put him on track to the NFL Hall of Fame. Payton will help him earn a gold jacket in Canton, Ohio.

Oddsmakers at DraftKings Sportsbook have already factored the Sean Payton effect into Denver’s Super Bowl odds, which rose from +4000 to +2800 after the Broncos’ blockbuster trade-and-hire on Tuesday, per B/R betting:

br_betting @br_betting

The Broncos have moved from +4000 to win next season’s Super Bowl to +2800 after hiring Sean Payton to be their next Head Coach 😧

(via @DKSportsbook)

Before the Broncos acquired Wilson in a major trade deal with the Seattle Seahawks last offseason, they had a decent roster that went 7-10 with the third-ranked scoring defense in 2021. Many thought that Wilson would immediately make them a Super Bowl contender, but the team faceplanted under former head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who went one-and-done in Denver.

In 2022, the Broncos defense remained stout for most of the year and ranked seventh in yards allowed, but Wilson struggled mightily in an offense that scored the fewest points per game. Denver fired Hackett after an embarrassing 51-14 Christmas Day loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The Broncos couldn’t just plug a star quarterback into the offense for a deep playoff run, and they admitted a mistake in hiring the wrong head coach for the job. Wilson had an abysmal 2022 season, throwing for 3,524 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 60.5 percent completion rate. Even one of his teammates, defensive tackle Mike Purcell, seemed fed up with Wilson in a frustrating loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 12.

Payton, who quickly established a winning culture in New Orleans, can clean up the mess in Denver. He went 152-89 with a 9-8 playoff record as the Saints’ lead skipper.

In Denver, Payton should have a stout defense with a core group of playmakers in Pat Surtain II, Justin Simmons, Baron Browning, D.J. Jones and Randy Gregory, if he can bounce back from an injury-riddled 2022 season. The front office should also earmark enough cap space to re-sign defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones, who’s coming off arguably his best campaign.

Denver Broncos offensive line (left to right)

Billy Turner No. 57, Quinn Meinerz No. 77, Graham Glasgow No. 61, Dalton Risner No. 66 and Cameron Fleming No. 73

Denver Broncos offensive line (left to right)

Billy Turner No. 57, Quinn Meinerz No. 77, Graham Glasgow No. 61, Dalton Risner No. 66 and Cameron Fleming No. 73David Eulitt/Getty Images

On the other side of the ball, Payton and his staff have some work to do.

The Broncos must patch up their offensive line. Left guard Dalton Risner and right tackles Cameron Fleming and Billy Turner will become free agents in March. Perhaps Graham Glasgow moves from center to left guard, but Lloyd Cushenberry III has struggled at the pivot in three pro seasons. The former lined up in the middle of the front line, while the latter spent the second half of the 2022 term on injured reserve with a groin injury.

Denver may also have questions in its backfield if Javonte Williams lacks explosiveness in a return from a torn ACL and LCL that cut his 2022 season short in October. With running backs Latavius Murray and Mike Boone set to hit the free-agent market, the Broncos may carve out a role for Chase Edmonds, whom the team acquired from the Miami Dolphins before last year’s trade deadline.

Denver Broncos wide receivers (left to right)

No. 81 Tim Patrick, No. 10 Jerry Jeudy and No. 14 Courtland Sutton

Denver Broncos wide receivers (left to right)

No. 81 Tim Patrick, No. 10 Jerry Jeudy and No. 14 Courtland SuttonJustin Edmonds/Getty Images

Fortunately for Payton, he doesn’t have to add perimeter playmakers. Wilson has a solid wide receiver duo in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Rookie third-round tight end Greg Dulcich showcased a ton of potential after his Week 6 return from a hamstring injury, hauling in 33 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games (six starts).

After logging at least 51 receptions, 734 yards and five touchdowns in back-to-back campaigns, Tim Patrick tore his ACL last August. Assuming he fully recovers, the 29-year-old will complete a viable three-wide receiver set with KJ Hamler (if healthy) also in the mix as a speedy deep threat in certain situations.

As the team sorts out roster personnel decisions across the offensive line and perhaps in the backfield, Payton must focus on framing the offense around Wilson’s strengths. Weeks ago, he talked a little bit about that project while on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd (h/t John Sigler of Saints Wire):

“You correct flaws immediately, and then we don’t worry about how long the process is going to take. In other words, I’d want to cutup today, I’d want a cutup of all of Russell’s pass plays of 30 or more yards from the field, and I’d want to see, ‘Are there are some schemes that he felt very comfortable with?’

“Like I know they did a great job in Seattle of bringing him in off of a naked boot and then pulling up, and we all saw that throw back to [Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air.”

Upon his arrival in Denver, Payton will likely have buy-in from Wilson, who, according to Cowherd, wanted the former Saints lead skipper and is willing to take hard coaching from him (h/t Zac Stevens of DNVR Sports):

Zac Stevens @ZacStevensDNVR

Russell Wilson has reached out to Sean Payton, per @ColinCowherd (via @TheHerd)

“Russell Wilson has contacted Sean [Payton], legally, by the way, through channels. He wants Sean Payton. He needs fixing. He knows he needs fixing.”

Despite his decorated resume, Wilson’s down year may have humbled Mr. Unlimited. Going into the 2023 offseason, he should be all ears and willing to tweak some things about his play under Payton.

Even before Payton turned the Saints into a playoff contender for most of his 15-year tenure, he served as an offensive coordinator for a New York Giants squad that ranked within the top 10 in yards for two out of his three years (2000-02) with the team. Back then, Payton didn’t have a potential Hall of Famer. He worked with Kerry Collins and helped Big Blue make two postseason appearances with solid offensive units.

On to a new challenge, Payton has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt in a task to turn around the Broncos with a high-profile quarterback in Wilson. Though some people said this last offseason, Denver has truly put the AFC West and the NFL landscape on notice with a franchise-changing acquisition.

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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