Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Sean Payton: Nathaniel Hackett’s performance in 2022 might have been among the worst ever

Sean Payton is shaking things up in Denver. In so doing, he has no qualms about wagging a finger at his predecessor.

In comments to Jarrett Bell of USA Today, Payton sprayed blame in every possible direction for the Broncos’ struggles in 2022. He reserved his most pointed criticism for one-and-done head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

“It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL,” Payton told Bell. “That’s how bad it was.”

Payton made it clear that “everybody’s got a little stink on their hands,” for what happened last year, even if most of the stench came from Hackett.

“There’s 20 dirty hands, for what was allowed, tolerated in the fricking training rooms, the meeting rooms,” Payton said, an apparent reference to Hackett allowing Wilson’s entourage to have an active presence in the facility. “The offense. I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell [Wilson]. 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.”

The end result was a top-to-bottom poor performance by the franchise.

“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed,” Payton told Bell. “And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much fucking time trying to win the offseason — the P.R., the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff.”

That won’t happen this year. Payton is taking a page from the Costanza playbook for 2023.

“Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite,” Payton said.

In explaining the decision to just focus on the work, Payton took a backhanded shot at Hackett’s new team in New York.

“We’re not doing any of that,” Payton said. “The Jets did that this year. You watch. Hard Knocks, all of it. I can see it coming.”

In other words, Payton believes the Jets will fail to meet their sky-high expectations. (The Broncos host the Jets on October 8, by the way.)

“Remember when Dan Snyder put that Dream Team together?” Payton said. “I was at the Giants [that year]. I was a young coach. I thought, ‘How are we going to compete with them? Deion’s there now.’ That team won eight games or whatever. So, listen . . . just put the work in.”

Payton was careful not to blame Wilson for the various distractions and other problems that dragged down his performance in 2022.

“That wasn’t his fault,” Payton said. “That was the parents who allowed it. That’s not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the G.M., the president and everybody else who watched it all happen.”

Holdover G.M. George Paton might have gulped a little bit when he saw that last quote.

Payton surely realizes that he can’t effect change without acknowledging the need for it, and without making those who were there in 2022 sufficiently angry about what happened so that they are motivated to turn things around. And Payton expects to turn things around quickly.

“I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team,” Payton told Bell.

That’s a tall order, given all the great teams in the AFC. Only seven will make it, and there are more than 10 true contenders.

Payton intends to will the Broncos toward contention. Even if his own bar is a little high, it could be the first big step in the right direction for the team — and for Wilson, whose career is suddenly and unexpectedly at a very real crossroads.