Maybe some tough love for Russell Wilson—one of the most pampered players in the NFL—is exactly what the doctor ordered.

If you haven’t heard yet, Sean Payton reportedly told Wilson, “Will you stop f—ing kissing babies? You’re not running for political office.”



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No more kid-glove handling of Russell Wilson

The second Sean Payton was hired, the kid gloves came off when it comes to the $240-million quarterback. Hey, Payton’s reputation is partly on the line with what he does in Denver with Wilson. And the new head coach has made it clear who the boss is in the Mile High City: It’s Payton, not Wilson.

Last year, Wilson was placed on a pedestal befitting a Greek God in Athens.

He was crowned the savior of the Denver Broncos before he played a single snap. Oh, and given that incredible 5-year, $242 million contract before he played a down with Denver, too.

Considering how quarterback-desperate the Broncos have been since Peyton Manning retired, locking up Wilson seemed like a great idea at the time. But looking back, it was a massive mistake by George Paton.

The kid gloves were then worn by Nathaniel Hackett in his handling of Wilson. The 11-year pro was given the keys to the car; Wilson helped co-author the Broncos offense with Hackett. We all saw the result last year; the Broncos were dead-last in scoring at 16.9 points per game and converting 3rd downs (29.1%).

At Dove Valley, Wilson enjoyed his own office, employed a strength and conditioning coach as well as an athletic trainer and personal massage therapist. Oh, and his personal quarterback coach was allowed in the building, too, which is seemingly unheard of.

“That wasn’t his fault,” Payton said of Wilson’s struggles last year in Jarrett Bell’s piece in USA TODAY. “That was the parents who allowed it. That’s not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the GM (George Paton), the president (Damani Leech) and everybody else who watched it all happen…And that other stuff, I’ve never heard of it. We’re not doing that.”

Payton’s not just showing tough love to Wilson. He’s calling the quarterback out, sure, but also asserting himself as the one leader of the team. And Payton believes he can turn Wilson around, that not all of what happened last year on or off the field was his fault.

“But everybody’s got a little stink on their hands,” Payton continued to Bell. “It’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”

And that quote made headlines not only in Denver and New York—where Hackett is now the offensive coordinator of the Jets—but nationally. To get a sense of Hackett’s personality, check out Hard Knocks on HBOMax right now. It’s…something.

In New York, head coach Robert Saleh calls newly signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, “Big Man” and Hackett’s close relationship with him from the Green Bay days is evident. Rodgers is given everything on a platter and yet he hasn’t played a single snap for the Jets.

Denver is now Payton’s place

Meanwhile, in the Mile High City, Payton’s calling the shots.

Wilson is an all-time great quarterback. He’s a Super Bowl winner, one of the best dual-threat QBs the league has ever seen, and he’s a strong leader, too. But he’s been given the keys to the kingdom for far too long, even going back to his Seattle days.

With the Seahawks in 2021, Wilson was “heavily involved” in the hiring of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. They were middle-of-the-pack at best that year. With the Broncos, it was Payton’s choice to hire Joe Lombardi—Vince Lombardi’s grandson—as offensive coordinator, and his choice of Davis Webb as Wilson’s quarterback coach.

Remember when Wilson was doing high-knees in the aisle of the plane when the Broncos flew to London last year? Yeah, that’s not happening this time around.

Wilson “co-authoring” the offense? No chance, Mr. Unlimited.

Ryan Clark, who played in the NFL for 13 seasons, weighed in explaining it’s the opposite from how anyone’s treated Wilson:

This is Payton’s team, his offense. Payton’s a tough and proven winner, and Wilson will either fall in line or be replaced. No matter the cap hit.

This offseason, the head coach as asserted himself as the face of the Broncos franchise.

But Wilson is still a big personality. He’s all about faith, family, and football; at least, that’s what his Twitter is dedicated to. And he comes off as a family man, too. A bit corny, sure, but there are worse things a star quarterback could be. (See: Rodgers and his ego.)

Maybe that’s what Payton’s “kissing babies” comment was about. Maybe he wants to see some fire from Wilson and not just the good guy attitude.

When it comes to whether or not Payton can fix Russell Wilson, the jury is still out. And the answer isn’t simple.

The offensive line is still a work in progress and there’s no guarantee they’ll be markedly better even with the expensive signings of Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers. Wilson’s got to learn Payton’s offense, all while lining up with almost all backups at receiver with Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler and Jerry Jeudy injured.

If Jeudy plays Week 1, the Broncos will at least have 2-of-4 best receivers, but the more playmakers the better.

However, Payton won’t take excuses, either. His tough-nosed approach is what’s best for his career, for the Broncos as a team, and what may be best for Wilson, too.

We’ll have to see how it pans out this year between Payton and Wilson, but maybe this tough love approach is what the Broncos QB needs most. Or it may blow up in the coach’s face.