Broncos HC Sean Payton Offers Defiant 'Two Middle Fingers' Response to Criticism

From releasing Russell Wilson to drafting Bo Nix, Sean Payton has received no shortage of criticism as Denver Broncos head coach.
Oct 29, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton gestures in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton gestures in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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In what is now a year-round business, the six-week stretch between OTAs ending and training camp beginning is the NFL equivalent of crossing the Sahara desert. On account of just how satisfied Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton was impressed by the standard his players set during the offseason training program, so Broncos Country can enjoy the dog days of summer with good cheer.

"I think this: We have good competition," Payton said during the week. "Obviously, in all of the numbers and metrics that we track, you can kind of see it now [with] Catapult... It was different and felt different this year in a good way."

Payton has set the table nicely, but the Broncos effectively bringing rookie quarterback Bo Nix along in training camp will determine how well they eat when the main course is served. Those who indulge in the narrative that the Broncos are hosting a genuine open competition at quarterback this summer are misguided. Payton is unquestionably banking on Nix asserting his authority.

For as much as Payton has waxed poetic about riding the highs and lows of his coaching career with a healthy dose of reflective balance, he knows deep down that drafting Nix was designed to turn the Broncos franchise around. Payton has learned to channel the doubts and criticism aimed his way as a long-tenured head coach into making his team better — even if punching back is still his first impulse.

"I think that I have two middle fingers. I've gotten better with age [at] not using them (laughs)," Payton said on Thursday of his critics. "I think it's more—and I would say this changed for me—it's more inward focused relative to our own team and what we're doing. As you get older in this, you don't waste the calories on certain things that [you] might've back in 2006, '07,'08. I don't play a lot of video games, but you have 'X' amount of battery life and energy, and you try to use it where you think it's best going to help the team. So you learn over time to not spend as much on things you can't control, certainly lists."

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If Payton was concerned about critical blowback, he wouldn't have drafted the purported "system" quarterback with the "noodle" arm, Bo Nix, with the No. 12 overall pick.

"If that concerned me, we wouldn't have drafted Bo Nix where we selected him, if I was paying attention to that," Payton said. "That's that 'NFL train' that no one knows who's driving, and you have to pay attention to it, but you don't want to hop on it or you just start making decisions—and we still don't know who's driving, it's just going. Really paying attention to your gut, your experience, and what you're seeing. Those are the things that drive me now."

Payton seems completely reenergized by the Nix project he's immersed in. That's not to call Nix a "project" quarterback, but molding his hand-picked QB is the opposite of the unfortunate situation Payton found himself in when he inherited Russell Wilson last year.

Nix does possess some of Drew Brees' skill set, and the rookie certainly shares his cerebral qualities. With Wilson jettisoned, Payton is getting the opportunity to fully convey his teachings without being second-guessed.

Furthermore, Payton has continued to prioritize the youth movement in Denver, which may have begun in earnest when he released overpaid and underperforming veterans Randy Gregory and Frank Clark last season. Having a blank canvas in Nix certainly appears to enthuse Payton and f he got things right with his big personnel decisions, it represents the potential for big upside for the Broncos.

"There's a new energy to it, a new challenge," Payton said. "I think really it's that challenge of working with a young team, not just at quarterback. I think that's one thing I notice at least watching. I feel the competition. I think it's part of what makes this job exciting because it's very competitive. It's meeting the challenge and giving these guys the best plan and best opportunity. I look forward to training camp and the start of the season."

While the success of this year's offseason training program puts a spring in the Broncos' collective step, Payton is well aware that the real work is still yet to come.

"Let's not lose track of the No.1 goal of when camp starts: It's to arrive at the right 53-[man roster]," Payton said. "We spend a lot of time on that because you don't want a player in your camp that ends up leaving and excelling somewhere else. How do we get exposure? Did we get enough exposure of these players so we can make the right decisions? It's all geared on the right 53 and the right practice squad. There is a lot that goes into that. We are rooting for them all and coaching them hard, coaching all of them hard, regardless of how they got here. At this point, we have to go by what we see."

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Keith Cummings

KEITH CUMMINGS

Keith Cummings has covered the Denver Broncos at Mile High Huddle since 2019. His works have been featured on CBSSports.com, BleacherReport.com, Yahoo.com, and MSN.com.