Sean Payton’s flare-up against Russell Wilson brings the coach-QB relationship back into the spotlight

(Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from Pick Six by Mike Sando dated December 18, 2023.)

Sean Payton attacking the quarterback Russell Wilson on the sideline, later suggesting he was simply angry about the officiating, invited all sorts of speculation.

It’s hard to fault Payton for losing his cool when the officials wiped out a Broncos touchdown with an offensive offsides call that seemed indefensible. As one former coach put it, officials “lost their minds” seeking penalties associated with Philadelphia’s tush-push plays.

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


Sean Payton downplays courtside explosion 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 games, including 42-17 at Detroit on Saturday, tensions appear to be flaring up again. The argument is intriguing because the Broncos will have to decide after the season whether to fully guarantee another $37 million in Wilson’s contract.

A search of Payton’s media sessions throughout the season yielded a couple of mildly positive sentences about the quarterback he inherited, but not much. That doesn’t necessarily mean the coach and quarterback are headed for divorce, but Payton seems fine leaving the public wondering, a departure from how he treated Drew Brees during his tenure in New Orleans.

Some of this may simply be an old school approach to motivation and control. But the disdain Payton showed for Wilson early in the season and again on the sideline Saturday appeared highlighted.

While it’s possible that Wilson suggested that Payton should have initiated a replay challenge or should have done so on fourth down instead of going for a field goal, prompting an angry reaction from Payton, two coaches familiar with Wilson’s tenure in Seattle they offered another possibility. They noted that Wilson changed Seattle’s plays to get into rhythm and that if he had changed Payton’s plays on the drive in question, the coach might have issued a strong verdict.

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

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

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