June 25, 2024

Despite the start of the 2024 NFL league year on Wednesday, March 13, criticism toward Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton persists for his management of Russell Wilson last season.

During Payton’s inaugural year, the Broncos achieved an 8-9 record and rallied for a potential playoff spot before the controversial decision to bench Wilson in favor of backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham for the last two games. Wilson’s release from Denver was finalized on Wednesday, marked as a post-June 1 release, which reduces the team’s dead money burden for 2024.

As a result, Wilson inked a one-year veteran minimum deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent this week, leaving the Broncos to resume their search for a franchise quarterback.

With the 12th overall pick in the upcoming 2024 NFL draft, Denver finds itself in a position to potentially select its next signal-caller, prompting speculation from experts and fans alike regarding Payton’s choice in the first round.

Following Wilson’s departure and the team’s transition into a new era, Payton shoulders the weight of expectations to rectify the tumultuous quarterback situation that has plagued Denver for much of the past decade.

Thursday saw former All-Pro wide receiver Roddy White, a longtime NFC South adversary of Sean Payton, directing criticism at the Denver Broncos head coach.

“Sean [Payton]’s time has passed him by. [It] doesn’t matter who he drafts. Drew [Brees] carried that man, and he hasn’t accomplished anything since,” White expressed on X/Twitter.

The outspoken former Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowler wasted no time in attributing Sean Payton’s success to future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees, while also condemning the treatment of Russell Wilson during his tenure with the Denver Broncos.

White’s candid critique of Payton sparked a flurry of reactions on social media platforms, drawing responses from fans in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Denver. Notably, FOX Sports color commentator and Denver’s 104.3 The FAN radio host Mark Schlereth countered White’s assertions with his own rebuttal.

“Good roster? They averaged 6 wins a year over those years! Get out of here with that garbage,” Schlereth retorted on X.

There’s a possibility of lingering animosity from White’s perspective, given his history with Payton’s New Orleans Saints. During their NFC South rivalry, White’s Falcons tallied a 7-15 record against the Saints. Across 22 matchups, White compiled 86 receptions for 1,293 yards and nine touchdowns.

However, White clarified that his criticism of Payton stems solely from observing the games as a fan, rather than any lingering animosity from their rivalry.

“I don’t want people to think that (be)cause he coached the Saints and I was a Falcons player, that’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. I just watched the games cause I’m a fan. Your job as a coach is to put the players in the best position to make plays and he didn’t do that,” White emphasized on X.

Nevertheless, contrasting opinions persist. White might benefit from revisiting Wilson’s notable improvement under Payton, which saw an uptick in touchdowns (26 to 16) and a higher completion percentage (66.4% vs. 60.5%) compared to the previous season under Nathaniel Hackett.

The Walton-Penner ownership group and Broncos fans were well aware of the type of coach they were getting when they brought Sean Payton on board a year ago. Payton’s bold, brash, and determined approach was evident from the start, signaling his readiness to take calculated risks in pursuit of success, even if it meant ruffling some feathers along the way.

Prior to Payton’s tenure, the Broncos hadn’t achieved eight or more wins since 2016, during a transitional period after their Super Bowl victory.

Despite the challenges and uncertainties of Payton’s inaugural season, the outcomes speak for themselves, demonstrating that neither the league nor time has diminished the capabilities of the seasoned coach. Moving forward, the pivotal question will be whether Payton can successfully identify, nurture, and groom the Broncos’ next franchise quarterback from the first-round draft pool.

Falcons release Roddy White after 11 seasons

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