A year after making a move for QB Russell Wilson, the Broncos made the biggest splash of the 2023 offseason thus far by hiring Sean Payton. Let’s break down the aggressive approach from the front office.
Expectations were already a Mile High in Broncos Country — and they only got higher on Tuesday.
Following a tumultuous first season with Russell Wilson under center and Nathaniel Hackett as head coach, the Broncos agreed to a trade with the New Orleans Saints that’ll make Sean Payton the 19th coach in franchise history. Denver traded the 29th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and a 2024 second-round pick in exchange for Payton and the Saints’ 2024 third-round pick.
The deal will reportedly make Payton one of the richest coaches in the NFL — somewhere in the area of $17-20 million per year. The 59-year-old former Saints coach, who stepped down and spent this season as a studio analyst for Fox Sports, was the most coveted free-agent coach. He interviewed with four of the five teams that had head coaching vacancies and ultimately decided that Denver was the best scenario.
“This was the opportunity I was looking for,” Payton told NOLA.com. “It’s a great fanbase and great tradition. The ownership group is fantastic, and I love the way they competed in some of their games last year. It’s a good football city that we had in New Orleans.”
It’s a tall task ahead. The Broncos were the lowest-scoring offense this past season (16.9 points per game) while the highly anticipated acquisition of Wilson turned into an utter nightmare. He finished with a career-low 16 touchdowns with a career-high 55 sacks en route to a seventh consecutive playoff miss. Sean Payton will be the fifth head coach since the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015.
“Russell is a hard worker and has played at a high level and won a lot of games in this league,” Payton said. “The pressure is on us to put a good run game together and reduce the degree of difficulty on his position. I’m excited about him.”
Broncos fans might disagree about Wilson after this past season, but Payton is a championship-pedigree coach who can help get them back on track. If they don’t, then they’ll have mortgaged all of their assets and money for Wilson and Payton.
How did we even get here? Let’s explore.
Walton-Penner Group Double Down
The Walton-Penner family agreed to purchase the Broncos on June 7, 2022, and they haven’t stopped making moves. Forbes reported that the Walton-Penner group is “comfortably the NFL’s wealthiest” in the NFL and the second-highest among all sports owners; Robert Walton’s net worth is a reported $56.7 billion.
- Ownership spent more than $100 million to upgrade Empower Field at Mile High — the largest capital improvement in the history of the stadium.
- They’re installing a new field with a cost of $400,000.
- The team traded their first-round pick to the Seahawks for QB Russell Wilson, who then signed the second-largest contract in NFL history (five years, $245 million).
Payton is just the latest indication that they’re willing to spend and double down, despite a horrid season. Wilson’s on the books through 2028, thus they’ll take anyone and anything to help right the ship.
It isn’t often that a team trades valuable assets for a head coach, but it isn’t a complete anomaly.
- Herm Edwards, 2006: The Chiefs traded a fourth-round pick to the Jets in exchange for Edwards.
- Edwards went 15-33 in three seasons.
- Jon Gruden, 2002: The Raiders traded Gruden to the Buccaneers for two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and $8 million.
- The Buccs won the Super Bowl his first season there, and he finished 57-55 in seven seasons.
- Bill Belichick, 2000: The Jets traded Belichick to the Patriots after he resigned one day into the job. They received a first-round pick, fourth-rounder, and seventh-rounder. The Pats received two late picks back.
- Do we need to elaborate? Belichick has won the most Super Bowls for any coach in NFL history (6) with New England.
Notable Mentions: Bruce Arians (2019), Mike Holmgren (1999), Bill Parcells (1997)
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