The talking heads have gotten the most out of Sean Payton's first year with the Denver Broncos, there's no doubt about it. And the residual content from the things they say and report is equally fun. All of us in the football content business have benefitted greatly through the years from Sean Payton and the way he operates a team, but one of the latest comments from ESPN's Ryan Clark is something we have to park on for a little bit.
Clark has been highly critical of the way Payton has handled the Russell Wilson situation after the Broncos' decision to bench him, and the subsequent reports that Wilson was "threatened" to be made inactive if he didn't come off of an injury guarantee in his contract which would trigger $37 million for 2025.
It's absolutely fair to say that Russell Wilson was rather unceremoniously benched, especially as Payton doubled-down on it being a football decision. This was a benching based mostly -- if not all -- on on-field production, and the Broncos have made that clear from their end. From Wilson's end, this was a percolating financial move by the Broncos and his camp has made it clear that this has everything to do with future money and nothing to do with football.
It's fair for Wilson to have denied the team's request to come off of the injury guarantee in his contract. It was fair for the Broncos to ask him to come off of it since Wilson also already has $39 million guaranteed for 2024.
What's unfair here is ESPN's Ryan Clark calling Sean Payton a "thug" and proceeding to say that Payton has "undercut" Russell Wilson personally and professionally from his first press conference on. That has simply not been the case. Those who have followed this entire saga know that Sean Payton declared he would be "pissed off" if the Broncos didn't make the playoffs this season. Here's a clip from Payton's tell-all interview with USA Today writer Jarrett Bell:
"A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball."- Sean Payton
Sean Payton allegedly broke some unwritten "code" with the comments he made defending Russell Wilson in that USA Today piece. But now that the on-field play isn't good enough and Wilson has been benched, all of a sudden Payton has been at his throat from the start?
There was no open competition at QB for the Broncos in 2023 despite how bad Wilson was last year. Payton set Wilson up for a massive bounce-back year. How is it that he's a "thug" for sitting Russ with two games to the go and the Broncos all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs?