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Horse Tracks: Payton says figuring out QB situation starts now

While making the rounds at Radio Row, Payton shot down rumors of trading up for a QB but also hinted at reasons why we know Wilson will not be starting QB in Denver in 2024.

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Denver Broncos v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

While the Chiefs were off winning the Super Bowl, every other NFL head coach in Vegas was getting his talking points down for “moving on to next season.”

Sean Payton was particularly adept at it, as he seemed highly motivated to shoot down rumors that he’s planning to “trade up” in the draft and get a top college QB.

But he did hint that the offseason would be very important for Denver answering some key questions - particularly at quarterback.

“This offseason is going to be important for us - the draft, free agency, the questions around Russell obviously, what we’re doing at quarterback,” Payton told Jim Rome on CBS Sports. “All of those things are going to be vital to our success, not only in 2024 but our success in the next three or four years.”

Rome asked Peyton if Wilson could be starting for the Broncos next year and Payton quickly replied, “that’s a possibility” before diverting to his “I don’t even know their jersey numbers” routine (and for the record, no way that’s true, lol)

“Here’s what I know, ok...we don’t start looking at the college players until Monday, so I couldn’t tell you the jersey number of some of these top quarterbacks,” Payton said, adding that quarterback is a position that’s a “must” to figure out. “And that’s to include is Russell a part of that or not?”

When Rome pushed back on what QB traits Payton certainly knows he must want, the type of QB Payton described was easily a Mahomes-style signal caller, not a Wilson-style one.

“I think it’s important that they’re quick processors,” Payton said, naming Mahomes and Drew Brees as good examples. “During any given play in seven seconds, he’s going to point out the Mike ID, he’s going to send the receiver in motion, he’s going to alert the back here for a checkdown and alert Kelce it’s cover 0...these guys gotta be able to operate quickly in six or seven seconds.”

For fun I decided to go back and listen more closely to what Payton was saying last year about Wilson when he was just coming on board and was asked about getting Wilson back into elite form.

I remembered Payton being optimistic about working with Wilson, but with the benefit of hindsight and some healhty skepticism, it’s easy to listen now and see that there was always going to be discontent in that coach-QB relationship.

On the Pat McAfee Show during Super Bowl 57, McAfee tried to pin down Payton on how he’s going to turn Wilson around, and Payton found a way to talk for 10 minutes about his conversation with Joe Montana.

Then he deflected again when asked what the main priority was for choosing a team to get back into coaching - good QB/bad team or bad QB/good team?

Payton went with Door No. 3 - strong ownership.

“The No. 1 thing was ownership and front office. That gives you the ability to fix, change, move, all of the above,” Payton said (in what now seems like a serious foreshadowing of his early plans for Wilson).

When McAfee pushed to find out whether “a good QB” was part of his equation for choosing the Broncos, Payton reframed it, stating that going to a team with just a good quarterback (but not good ownership) would mostly likely end with a good QB, a bad team “and you’re probably going to get fired.”

Because there are no coaching vacancies where there’s a good team, a good QB and a good owner already in place.

“That’s Andy Reid coaching the Chiefs,” Payton joked.

So now it’ll be up to Payton and whoever he brings in at quarterback to continue building on the culture change he started.

“When you preach a new message and there is early success, that’s easy,” he said. “When you bring in a new message and man, you’re not having that success, it can be challenging.”

But when a team can come back from a deficit - the way the Broncos rallied from a 1-5 season start to a 5-0 run - the culture shift has a chance.

“Before you learn how to win some of these tight games, you have to learn how not to lose them,” Payton said, adding that when a team is able to get back above water after nearly drowning it brings tremendous self-confidence - even when the odds are against you. “When you dig yourself in a hole in this league, it’s hard.”

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