Sean Payton’s outbreak with Russell Wilson puts coach-QB relationship back in the spotlight

(Editor’s note: This is excepted from Mike Sando’s December 18, 2023 Pick Six.)

Sean Payton attacking the quarterback Russell Wilson benching, and then suggesting he was simply upset about acting as referee, sparked all sorts of speculation.

It’s hard to blame Payton for losing his cool when the officials overturned a Broncos touchdown with an offensive offsides call that seemed indefensible. As one former head coach put it, officials “have lost their minds” looking for penalties associated with Philadelphia’s pushing plays.

It’s just hard to understand why Payton would channel all that anger toward his quarterback.


Sean Payton downplays conflict with Russell Wilson

The nature of Payton’s relationship with Wilson took a backseat during a five-game winning streak fueled by opponent turnovers. With Denver losing two of its last three, including 42-17 in Detroit on Saturday, tensions appear to be boiling over again. The issue is compelling because the Broncos must decide after the season whether to fully guarantee another $37 million in Wilson’s contract.

A search of Payton’s media sessions during the season turned up a couple of mildly positive quotes about the quarterback he inherited, but not many. It doesn’t necessarily mean the coach and quarterback are headed for divorce, but Payton seems fine with letting the public wonder, a departure from the way he treated Drew Brees during his tenure in New Orleans.

Some of this could simply be an old-school approach to motivation and control. But the disdain Payton showed for Wilson earlier in the season and again on the bench Saturday seemed acute.

While Wilson may have suggested that Payton should have initiated a replay challenge or gone for it on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal, prompting an angry reaction from Payton, two coaches familiar with Wilson’s tenure Wilson in Seattle offered another possibility. They noted that Wilson changed plays in Seattle to get into a rhythm, and that if he had changed Payton’s plays during the series in question, the coach could have issued a resounding verdict.

“I don’t think Sean is beholden to anyone there,” another coach said, “so he’ll let everyone know when he’s angry. He just wasn’t very angry all the time in New Orleans. “They were winning.”

(Photo: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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