It’s not even lazy conspiracy theory fodder at this point. The level of self-sabotage Sean Payton is executing only arises when a man’s job security is 100% guaranteed.
Thanks to the Denver Broncos ownership group’s eff-you Walmart money, Payton has free rein to run his football operation as he sees fit. And what Payton sees fit right now is simple: LOSE. As much as possible. With a 1-5 record, he ain’t discouraged!
The effort to tank for Caleb Williams is a noble one. If you were in any position to do so, why wouldn’t you? It’s clear Russell Wilson ain’t the long-term guy. Payton didn’t choose to be with him. He took the job with the understanding that, at some point, he’d be able to choose his own quarterback somewhere down the line.
You might read this so far and say something like, “Matt, what are you on about bro? Just stop. Teams don’t purposely tank. This is ridiculous.” To which I would say…
Tell me I’m a tinfoil hat-wearing moron after I present you with the evidence. Starting here, all the way back to last year, when Payton publicly professed his love for Williams as a generational player:
Sean Payton believes Caleb Williams is a 'truly generational player' & is good enough that somebody will tank for him+cause the NFL to move to a lottery system to stop it happening again
Our guy is literally out here talking about overhauling the NFL Draft so that teams don’t do this.
This is the same human who presided over the Bountygate scandal in New Orleans. You don’t think he’d do something sketchy/morally ambiguous, especially for a competitive advantage? Come on now. Let’s not be naïve.
OK but how is this manifesting on the field, right? Well how about showing a good half of your encyclopedic call sheet to all of America:
Knowing Sean Payton… he's gonna lose his goddamn mind when he finds out how much of the play sheet — with the dots and his notes — made it onto the broadcast.
Look, when it comes to players who actually take the field in the NFL, none of them are going out there with the intention to lose. That Broncos defense who got humiliated not long ago when Miami hung a 70 burger on them showed the hell out on Thursday night at Kansas City.
Should Vance Joseph have dialed up more match man coverage against the Chiefs’ pedestrian receiving corps, doubled Travis Kelce, and dropped an EDGE type to spy on Patrick Mahomes most of the night, rather than running zone till the cows came home…? Yeah. I think so.
Every one of Travis Kelce's receptions tonight have come against the Broncos defense in zone coverage (8 receptions for 121 yards).
Kelce is averaging 5.1 yards of separation on 8 targets against zone coverage so far tonight (0 tight windows).
I’m not putting all this on Russ, either. All-22 film isn’t yet available for this game, but Amazon Prime Video’s broadcast showed just how little separation Wilson’s wideouts were creating. The handsomely-paid Courtland Sutton couldn’t create space. Former first-rounder Jerry Jeudy had three receptions for 14 yards, was often blanketed by the Chiefs’ secondary, and lived up to Steve Smith Sr’s evaluation that he’s JAG (Just A Guy).
Sure feels like Payton is running his scheme and not tailoring it to his players’ strengths on a consistent basis. Is that “cap” as the kids say these days? I don’t think so.
Case in point: Lil’Jordan Humphrey. What do I mean by that? Look at the offensive snap count from Week 5:
Maybe Payton banished Mims to the doghouse for muffing a punt and fumbling a high pitch on a reverse this past Sunday. That, too, would be nonsense however. It’s not like the Broncos came into Thursday in any position to not let a rookie work through his growing pains. They were 1-4. Now 1-5.
Moreover, Mims ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. When Humphrey was coming out of Texas, the best he could manage was a 4.75 — the slowest among all receivers in 2019.
In related news, he went undrafted.
Last season, Humphrey only managed to see the field in six games and recorded four catches as part of the New England Patriots’ skill position lineup. That group is widely considered to be the worst of its kind in the NFL.
You can’t sit there and tell me with a straight face that Sean Payton is doing everything he can to win football games by playing his ex-Saints buddy Lil’Jordan Humphrey more than Marvin Mims. You just can’t.
But yeah, Payton isn’t above throwing Russ under the bus after the fact regardless.
Trending: #Broncos coach Sean Payton said after the 19-8 loss to the #Chiefs: "To win in our league you've got to be better throwing the ball,''
You know why? Because he wants Caleb Williams, baby! Funny enough, this could be a big-picture sort of personnel decision by Payton. Gotta keep Mims fresh for when his ex-Sooner teammate is chucking go balls to him in 2024.
red river 2021: the game that started it all for caleb williams (and a great day from marvin mims as well) pic.twitter.com/7QbLLU7nEJ
If tanking for Williams is not Payton’s plan, how else do you explain not one, but two grossly mismanaged timeout situations? One to dial up a 4th and 3 call with zero good answers, and one after Russ took a third-down sack before Denver punted it back to the Chiefs.
To be clear, I’m not asserting in any way, shape or form that Payton is drinking on the job. You have to be stone-cold sober for this type of big-brained subterfuge.
Are we seriously to believe an alleged genius coach like Payton, making nine figures over the course of his contract, forgot what freaking down it was in that second timeout situation? Color me skeptical.
So between all this and Denver’s decision to cast off veteran pass-rushers like Randy Gregory and Frank Clark, we’re no longer in conspiracy theory territory. It’s common sense. It’s actions speaking louder than words.
Do all these elements add up to the Broncos trying to win as much as they can in 2023, or do they add up to a losing equation that hopefully, ultimately lands them Caleb Williams? I’ll rest my case here for now. Draw your own conclusions. I know what mine are.
PS: I know I said I wouldn’t count Denver’s defensive efforts as part of their Collapse For Caleb tanking campaign, but what on earth was THIS!?