Sean Payton has no one left to point the finger at but himself
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Sean Payton has no one left to point the finger at but himself

Now that the Denver Broncos have made their decision about moving on from the Russel Wilson era, it’s time for head coach Sean Payton to get serious. There’s a lot at stake here and Payton can’t whiff on this quarterback selection. Whether it be via free agency or the draft, Payton is only going to have a year or two before folks begin questioning his legacy.

“As the season progressed you could tell Sean Payton and Russell Wilson never gelled. Denver knows they’re going to take a huge cap hit in doing this but it’s more of Payton saying this is not going to be my guy for the foreseeable future.” – Ryan McFadden Broncos Beat Writer

From the minute coach Payton walked in and “laid down the law” in the Broncos’ locker room, it was clear this had the potential to fail, quickly. Sure, some of the behavior Wilson exhibited in his first year in Denver was ridiculous, but for Payton to air out so much dirty laundry and send warning shots at Russ through the media, was troubling.

If not for Wilson’s huge contract (which was used against him in the end) he likely would’ve been given the boot immediately once Payton walked into the facility. Now that Wilson is gone, the clock is ticking because Payton won’t have five years to find his next “Drew Brees” type QB. Everyone knows if he could jump in a time machine and go back 15 years, he’d snatch up that version of Brees in a second.

Knowing Payton’s history with drafting QBs, he’ll probably opt to go into free agency. That’s how he ended up with Brees, who many thought was done due to a shoulder injury after five years with the San Diego Chargers. Payton thought otherwise, so the Saints took a chance, and the rest is history.

So, we know Payton is a good evaluator of somewhat already proven talent. Brees went to new heights with Payton’s tutelage, but we’d already seen him play well in San Diego. There was something there and Payton was smart to notice it and capitalize.

The NFL Draft is around the corner

However, when it comes to drafting QBs, that’s another story. While Brees rarely missed games during his stint in New Orleans, the QBs drafted by Payton over the years haven’t gone on to do much of anything. New England had the same kind of situation for two decades with a QB in Tom Brady who never even missed reps in practice, let alone regular-season games. But for all the flack Bill Belichick gets about drafting QBs, he did select Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round (2014). Belichick and his crew also picked Matt Cassel in the seventh round in 2005.

Neither Garoppolo nor Cassel would be classified as superstars or future Hall of Famers, but Payton wishes his list of handpicked (via the draft) QBs was anywhere close to this. Sean Canfield, Garrette Grayson and Tommy Stevens are a few QBs Payton selected during his time as Saints head coach. They all washed out of the league rather quickly, in case you’re wondering.

Another QB that comes to mind toward the end of Payton’s time in New Orleans is Taysom Hill. Although Hill did suit up his rookie year with the Saints, he was an undrafted free agent. Hill was actually picked up by Green Bay then cut and scooped up by Payton. There’s also Chase Daniel, who was a pretty good backup for a long time and he also began his career in New Orleans under Payton. But Hill was also an undrafted free agent picked up by the Saints.

So, when we look back at Payton’s long history with QBs, we see there isn’t much of one when it comes to finding young talent through the draft and developing them. If you want to count undrafted free agents, that’s fine, but even Daniel was there for Payton, and he passed. If the Broncos are going to get on track it’s pretty much assured that it’ll be by a free-agent find under center.

Names like Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew and Jameis Winston are in play as free agents. Cousins is 35 and coming off an Achilles injury, Tannehill is 36, Mayfield is likely to stay in Tampa Bay and Payton already coached Winston in New Orleans. Winston could be a potential option and then there’s everybody’s favorite backup Minshew.

Not the most star-studded group, but some solid QBs, nonetheless. But are any of those guys capable of being the next Drew Brees under Payton? In fairness, nobody thought Brees would become the Drew Brees that we know today, so it’s not impossible. Whichever route, Payton will need to figure it out quickly because patience is a thing of the past in today’s NFL. It’s not like Payton is one of these coaches with multiple rings.

As innovative as Payton’s been during his coaching career, only winning one Super Bowl will begin to feel like he underachieved. Especially if we get another couple of mediocre years in Denver with mediocre to average QBs that he’s brought in. Now that Russ is gone, Payton has no one to point the finger at but himself.

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