Insider Exposes Shocking Depths Sean Payton Sunk to Make it Work With Russell Wilson

Denver Broncos fans had heard that it was bad between Sean Payton and Russell Wilson, but this bad?
Sep 17, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback
Sep 17, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Russell Wilson era in the Mile High City ended with a whimper, despite its promising start. In his first year as Denver Broncos head coach, Sean Payton was a clear net-positive for Wilson, but he had to totally restructure his offense and simplify the scheme.

Broncos fans have long heard rumors about the lengths Payton went to simplify things for Wilson — from the wristband to the half-field reads — but according to CBS Sports' Aditi Kinkhabwala, it was even worse.

"He was constantly climbing out of the back of the pocket. He struggled with snap counts. He couldn't manage or handle the play-calling. They went from putting a wristband on [him] to by the end of the season, all the play calls had to be two words and everybody else was required to know what the play calls were," Kinkhabwala said via the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show.

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It's unclear where Kinkhabwala is getting her information, but if true, it further illustrates why Payton was not only willing to suffer the blowback of benching Wilson, but also released him to the tune of an NFL record dead-cap hit, which has made life much more difficult to navigate for the Broncos this offseason.

"There is a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very valid reason that Sean Payton, who is one of the best quarterback coaches and best offensive minds in our game… is saying I'm going to pay this guy millions upon millions of dollars to be nowhere near my locker room," Kinkhabwala said.


Payton's frustrations with Wilson were evident long before his fateful decision to bench the veteran entering Week 17. The cracks beneath the veneer could be seen in the Broncos' pitiful Week 15 loss to the Detroit Lions when Payton was captured by the broadcast cameras lambasting Wilson on the sideline.

It's all water under the bridge for the Broncos, even though they'll be paying for their Wilson mistake for the next several years on the salary cap. Wilson's jettison gave the Broncos a clean slate at quarterback, and with it's punitive impact on the salary, Payton had to go back to the well and land a signal-caller in the draft who could play the next several years on a cost-controlled contract.

Enter Bo Nix.

Joining the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year deal, Wilson gets to continue collecting paychecks, as it were, from the Broncos, and striving to convince the NFL that he's not washed. Meanwhile, Payton gets a fresh start at quarterback with an ideal fit like Nix.

The veteran offensive coach now has his centerpiece with which to rebuild the Broncos around. When it comes to Wilson's outlook in Pittsburgh, as Hall-of-Famer Dick Vermeil said last year on the subject of Payton 'fixing' the nine-time Pro Bowler, "If he can't do it, it can't be done."

Payton definitely improved Wilson. But Payton, as knowledgeable and football-wise as he is, is impervious to the vagaries of Father Time.

Payton is a highly respected coach whose reputation stretches throughout the NFL and into the college ranks. He's considered one of the brightest offensive minds of the modern NFL era, so if Wilson couldn't cut the mustard with Payton, what makes Mike Tomlin think he can extract any blood from the Russ rock with Arthur Smith?

"I have tremendous respect for him," Vermeil said of Payton. "To me, he and Andy Reid are the offensive coaches of the decade."

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Chad Jensen


Chad Jensen is the Founder of Mile High Huddle and creator of the wildly popular Mile High Huddle Podcast. Chad has been on the Denver Broncos beat since 2012 and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.