The most important relationship in all of football is that of a quarterback and his head coach.
Last week, a pre-arranged football marriage was formed by Broncos ownership (the Walton-Penner family) and the organization between a highly intelligent, passionate, experienced, Super Bowl-winning coach and a highly intelligent, passionate, experienced, Super Bowl-winning signal caller.
This is a coach-quarterback marriage of two men in the prime of their respective careers. Both have something personal to prove, and both are focused and committed to winning. The coach's challenge is to rebuild a broken culture with a strong roster and elevate the play of his quarterback to his former Pro Bowl status. For the quarterback, it's the relentless challenge to change an ugly 2022 narrative and return to his elite stature amongst NFL quarterbacks.
For Sean Payton and Russell Wilson, the start of the 2023 NFL season has already begun.
Why Payton Was Right for Denver
The 2022 Denver Broncos were a disaster offensively while dealing with substantial injuries, as Wilson had the worst season of his career. The team went 4-11 with Wilson under center while he completed only 60.5 percent of his passes and posted a 16:11 touchdown-interception ratio. This did not live up to the standards or expectations that Wilson and the Broncos had entering the season.
Before Payton first started coaching the New Orleans Saints, the team went 3-13 and struggled through displacement from Hurricane Katrina. He immediately implemented a system that played to newly acquired quarterback Drew Brees' strengths. The result was a 10-6 season and a young Brees receiving multiple MVP votes. The formula and experience that helped Payton quickly turn around the Saints in 2006 is already being implemented in Denver.
I have spent most of my coaching career in the offensive system Payton brings to Denver. Wilson's relentless work ethic and understanding of the game, combined with Payton's expertise in the offense and passion for teaching, is a perfect match that will maximize the relationship and immediately improve the offensive productivity and team's performance from Game 1.
Wilson can now simply focus on himself. He will spend this offseason in San Diego centered on his conditioning, fundamentals and continuing to cultivate relationships with his teammates.
There will be differences this year in how Payton will prepare that Wilson may not be accustomed to during the course of his 12-year career, but this is where trust comes to the forefront. There will be no experiments with protocols, systems, plays or processes. Payton is an expert on the coaching side, and I have no doubt Russ will listen, adopt and be refreshed by it all. I have no doubt this is already the case.
The narrative for Wilson will completely change with Payton as the coach. Payton's proven system of football and elite track record of success with a quarterback of similar size, ability to throw accurately and sufficient ability to move and extend the play outside of the pocket will revitalize Russell.
While Wilson focuses on himself, Payton, general manager George Paton and the Broncos organization will take care of the rest. This includes the draft and player acquisition and an improved strength, training and rehabilitation program to better ensure the overall health of the players throughout the course of the season.
Why Denver Was Right for Payton
With the opportunity to observe the NFL for the last year from 30,000 feet, Payton has surely done his research. He would not have taken this job without watching an extensive amount of video. He concluded Denver was the best head coaching job available this offseason for one reason: He was convinced Wilson is still capable of playing at an elite level.
It's also arguable Payton will inherit a more talented overall team than he ever had in New Orleans, with a strong defense in tow and several offensive weapons returning from injury.
I have no doubt Wilson will spend a considerable amount of time with Brees in San Diego this spring, as both live there in the offseason. Brees had success late in his career, and Wilson can still have success late in his career. These two supposedly undersized quarterbacks were and are equipped with functional intelligence, mental and physical toughness and ice in their veins.
There are so many boxes to check when evaluating quarterbacks, but the three big ones are: Is he accurate? Can he throw and process from the pocket in the last two minutes (where most games are won)? And can he extend a play outside the pocket with his legs and/or arm? The answer for Wilson is an absolute yes.
Payton has watched the tape and has likely seen the similarities in Brees and Wilson's games, including their similar stature and ability to be highly accurate from the pocket. It's arguable Wilson is still as mobile as Brees ever was, and there were late-season flashes of his rushing ability that validate it.
I spent six weeks with Russell last spring, and any coach would want to coach a player with his positive attitude, elite football intelligence, work ethic and physical ability. There is no quarterback in the league more dedicated to the game of football and the success of his organization than Wilson.
The quarterback meeting room is the hub of the multi-billion-dollar NFL corporation, and the Walton-Penner family made the best available upgrade to their recent investment possible this offseason when they paired Wilson with Payton.
When Payton walks into the meeting room for the first OTA in April, there will be his quarterback, in great physical condition, completely focused and passionate to listen, learn, and be at his best for his new head coach.
On the other side, Wilson will see a coach fully prepared to teach a proven offensive system of excellence that will bring out the best in Wilson, the offense and this football team.
With a proven head coach, quarterback and system of football now in place, the script will be flipped quickly in 2023. The setback of the Broncos in 2022 will now become a setup of two potential Hall of Famers undergoing a unique change to build on their legacies together.
Marc Trestman is a former NFL, CFL and college coach. He coached in four Grey Cups in the CFL, winning three over seven years with Montreal and Toronto before becoming head coach of the Chicago Bears. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachTrestman.