The Denver Broncos were thought to be not only a playoff contender, but a Super Bowl contender less than one year ago after the trade for Russell Wilson and hiring of Nathaniel Hackett. While the organization came up remarkably short of those aspirations in 2022, it feels like Tuesday’s hiring of a new, Super Bowl-winning head coach could help the Broncos come much closer to those previous expectations.
The Broncos reportedly traded the New Orleans Saints for the rights to head coach Sean Payton. Payton will take over as the coach in Denver, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Payton, who spent the 2022 season working for FOX as a broadcaster, stepped away from the Saints following the 2021 campaign.
The hiring of Payton is conducted with Wilson at the forefront of mind. Denver needs the $250 million quarterback to get back to the Pro Bowl-level of play that he showcased during his first 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. And should the offensive-minded Payton be able to connect with the 34-year-old Wilson and help him get back there, the Broncos could catapult back into the group of AFC contenders.
Payton’s potential in Denver probably doesn’t have other teams feeling like they’re on cloud nine. That includes those in the AFC like the New England Patriots. And it goes further than the Patriots simply playing the Broncos once during the 2023 regular season. If Denver does get closer to reaching its potential, the Broncos certainly should be in the mix for an AFC playoff spot. And even if the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs continue to run the AFC West, the Broncos very well could position themselves among the wild-card teams despite competing in a tough division.
Payton certainly has the ability to get the group to that point, too. The veteran head coach arrives in Denver after having a top 10 scoring offense in 12 of his 15 seasons at the helm of the Saints. And six of those 12 times Payton’s Saints ranked inside the top 3 in points scored. That’s a stark contrast compared to last year’s Broncos offense, which was led by the former offensive coordinator Hackett. Hackett and company ranked dead last in points scored and outside the top 20 in total yards. He was fired by the Broncos and recently was hired as the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets.
And the Broncos have the players to make up a good offense with wideouts like Tim Patrick, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy along with running back Javonte Williams. It’s representative of the talent on Denver’s entire roster as the defense is led by standout safety Justin Simmons, First Team All-Pro cornerback Patrick Surtain II, pass rusher Randy Gregory and others. The roster is among the biggest reasons why the Broncos’ vacancy was arguably the most desirable opening entering the offseason.
While it’s fair to approach the Broncos situation with some hesitancy after last season, especially given the fact Wilson played such a role in their fourth-place finish in the division, Payton nevertheless serves as a notable coaching addition for a team that should have been far better than a 5-12 conclusion.