March 21, 2023

Russell Wilson

Image: Getty Images

Let’s Ride!

That’s a phrase you won’t hear much of after this season. Especially if you live in the Denver area or the state of Colorado, for that matter. Those words should be outlawed by the Broncos fan base, as they are forever linked to this disastrous season that began the Russell Wilson era in Denver. As of now, Wilson should be considered a restoration or fixer-up project. Broncos’ ownership must find the right coach to come and rebuild this quarterback because he’s not going anywhere. Wilson’s contract guarantees that for the next few years.

The good thing is it can’t get much worse than a 4-11 record and your top-five draft pick belonging to another team. A pick the Broncos earned by being one of the biggest disappointments of the 2022 NFL season. There was nothing but high hopes in March when the trade occurred, bringing Wilson over from Seattle. Everyone assumed Denver was set to challenge Kansas City for the AFC West crown — just a quarterback away. The Broncos won’t even finish ahead of the Raiders in the division, and Las Vegas has been a major letdown this year in its own right.

Denver’s already begun rebuilding by handing Nathaniel Hackett his pink slip the day after Christmas. It was a harsh but necessary season’s greeting. Hackett had to go since he gets equal blame in this equation. (His poor decision-making also landed him on our Idiot of the Year list.) Now it’s time to bring in a coach that can reform and reshape Wilson into the respectable QB he was before.

The golden child of coaches

Many of the leading candidates for head coaching spots this offseason will be young coordinators looking for their first opportunity as the guy in charge. Other candidates will be more seasoned coordinators who may have had a shot as head coach but didn’t fare so well. However, the leading candidate for just about any team needing a new coach will be Sean Payton. The former Saints Super Bowl-winning head coach has expressed interest in returning to the sideline since leaving New Orleans. Or at least the rumor of his impending return has been out there for a while. More recently, there was a report that Payton is assembling a staff that could include former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

Payton helped make Drew Brees into the Hall of Fame-bound QB we came to know during their tenure in The Big Easy. Most teams around the league at the time following Brees’ shoulder injury in 2005 with the Chargers stayed away, thinking he was done. The Miami Dolphins said no to Brees; therefore, he landed in New Orleans with first-time head coach Sean Payton, and the rest is history.

That system with Payton helped make Brees an all-time great and got his career back on track. Brees was selected to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro in his first year under Payton. That’s the kind of leadership Wilson, and the Broncos need. They need an established, successful coach to come in and take over this team.

Wilson immediately overshadowed Hackett on name recognition, along with the big contract extension worth $245 million. Thus far, it’s been a bust based on this season. A coach like Payton could help turn that around and get this ship back on course. What Payton also represents is a coach that might be able to get Russ to buy into his philosophy. There were very few times this year when Wilson and Hackett looked to be on the same page. Whether it was play calling, decision-making, or overall execution.

Saying the Broncos’ offense has struggled to score would be an understatement. Denver has yet to post 30 points once this year. The team’s highest point total came in a loss to the Chiefs, 34-28. Denver has scored more than 20 points four times in 15 games. They barely score 15 points per game. A Payton-coached offense in Denver would eclipse this output easily.

Hackett likely would’ve been done regardless, short of a deep playoff run in his first year since he was hired by the Broncos’ previous ownership. The horrible start only cemented those thoughts around the league. So, the new hire needs to be a good one. With the Chargers making the playoffs, that position might not become available, and that’s been the most talked about landing spot for Payton. So, this could open a window for Broncos ownership — the Walton family to swing for the fences in acquiring a homerun hire.

A forgotten candidate

Another name to look out for as a dark horse candidate could be Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Yes, he’s on the opposite side of the ball, but they have history from their days in Seattle. Maybe they could get the band back together and steal Darrell Bevell away from Miami to reunite with Wilson. Sometimes familiarity is the most significant step in making players comfortable in their new surroundings.

It’d be nice to see a coordinator like Eric Bieniemy get an opportunity, but it feels like his window has slammed shut for some reason. He’s the best recent example of the NFL’s problem with the need for more diversity among head coaches. He was fish grease hot a couple of years ago and got “token” Rooney rule interviews. Since then, his name seems to have been tossed back into the pile like so many other black coaches in this league. 

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