It’s the early days of the offseason program, but the rapport formed between Payton and Wilson will go a long way in determining the fate of the Broncos, who have finished fourth in the AFC West in three straight seasons and haven’t reached the playoffs since their Super Bowl win in 2015.
That was supposed to change last year after Wilson joined Denver in a seismic trade with Seattle. Instead, Wilson spiraled throughout a lost season, completing 60.5% of his passes for 16 touchdowns, both career worsts, and tying his second-worst mark with 11 interceptions. He never looked comfortable in his new home, nor did the offense as a whole, which ranked last in the league in points scored.
That must improve if Payton and Wilson are to add to their three combined Super Bowl trips and two rings. It’s why Wilson has been attacking the offseason like never before, an approach that’s won him the admiration of a former rival.
“For the longest time, I really couldn’t stand Russell because of how many times he beat us,” said offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, a free-agent addition formerly with the 49ers, who are 4-17 all-time against the QB. “To be in the locker room with him and to be able to be in the huddle with him now has been awesome. Russ, first and foremost, he’s a workhorse. There’s nobody in the building that works harder than him. He’s addicted to this game and is addicted to trying to be great. That rubs off on a lot of people. And there’s a reason that he’s had the success in this league that he’s had. I’m excited for what we can all do together, because I think with coach (Payton), with Russ, with the talent we have on this team, I think we have a really good shot to help Russ get to even higher heights than he’s been.”
The weapons were there last year, led by Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, and will be supplemented further by second-round wide receiver Marvin Mims. Only now Wilson has a retooled offensive line for more time to find them behind big-money additions McGlinchey and Ben Powers. And, perhaps most importantly, Denver lured a coach with a championship pedigree out of retirement to bring it all together.
The potential of a redemption arc and being surrounded by a bevy of talent has driven Wilson’s already well-known work ethic to an all-time high this summer, with the 34-year old declaring he wants to have “the best offseason of my life.”
A coach and a rival-turned-protector are noticing that sharpness, but it’ll have to translate into one of the best regular seasons of Wilson’s life if the Broncos are to approach the highs McGlinchey described and mount any kind of Super Bowl run.