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Sean Payton blockbuster trade: 4 winners and losers, including Russell Wilson

It’s officially official. Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton is headed to the Denver Broncos.

In what ended up becoming a quick-moving process on Tuesday, Payton was dealt from the New Orleans Saints to Denver with a third-round selection. In return, the Saints acquire Denver’s first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft (29th overall) and a second-rounder next year.

There’s certainly a lot of moving parts here. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday that Denver spent the latter hours of the process attempting to hire DeMeco Ryans away from the San Francisco 49ers. Once Ryans opted to take the Houston Texans’ head coach job, Denver zeroed in on pulling off this blockbuster trade.

The backdrop here includes Denver also making a last-ditch effort to bring in Jim Harbaugh from the Michigan Wolverines. In reality, it seems as if Sean Payton was their third choice. That’s absolutely wild.

As it stands, the 59-year-old Payton returns to the NFL sidelines after taking a year off to work with Fox Sports. He’ll now lead a downtrodden organization that has not earned a playoff appearance since back in 2015. Below, we check in on the four biggest winners and losers from this blockbuster trade.

Related: Ranking Sean Payton and the NFL head coaching hires of 2023

Winner: Russell Wilson gets his man in Sean Payton

sean payton trade winners and losers: russell wilson
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A future Hall of Famer in his own right, Wilson is coming off a disastrous first season with Denver. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks last offseason, he posted a 4-11 record in 15 starts. The quarterback was a shell of his former self working under one-and-done head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

This represented the worst statistical performance of Wilson’s otherwise brilliant career. He now teams up with a coach in Payton who oversaw Drew Brees’ ascension from second-round pick to future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It must also be noted that this is the one move Wilson wanted Denver to make during the process. There’s now no more excuses for Wilson. He has one of the most-respected offensive minds in the game to call plays and run the ship. It’s time for the quarterback to revert to earlier-career form.

Related: Highest-paid head coaches in the NFL today

George Paton on thin ice with the Denver Broncos

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New Broncos co-owner Greg Penner oversaw the process of bringing in Sean Payton to be their next head coach. His hands-on approach led to some drama behind the scenes. But Penner made it clear throughout the process that the new head coach would be reporting directly to him.

“The new coach will report to me, which is a more typical structure in the NFL. Obviously, the relationship between the general manager and head coach is a critical one, and George is going to be intimately involved in this process of looking for a new head coach and we’ll make sure there’s a good fit there.”

Denver Broncos’ Greg Penner following the firing of Nathaniel Hackett

Penner is treating this more like a CEO job. That means an hands-on approach to the day-to-day operations in Denver.

Adding someone of Payton’s ilk also changes the dynamics in a big way. He didn’t turn in that cushy media gig to solely be a head coach. Mr. Payton will want control over the Broncos’ 53-man roster. He could also want full player personnel control, pretty much ending Paton’s rocky two-year stint as the Broncos’ general manager.

Related: 20 greatest NFL head coaches in history

Winner: Sean Payton’s hardball pays off

sean payton trade denver broncos
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

While we don’t know the extent of what Payton will be earning on an annual basis with Denver, it’s safe to say he’ll now become the highest-paid head coach in NFL history. That is to say, north of the $15-$18 million Sean McVay is earning annually with the Los Angeles Rams.

It was noted throughout this process that Denver was willing to pay New Orleans its asking price in a trade for Payton. The team didn’t really have much negotiating power when it came to contract talks with Payton given his success and their struggles in recent seasons.

  • Sean Payton career coaching record: 152-89, .631 winning %, nine playoff appearances

As noted above, Payton will likely have control over the roster. He can build the Broncos the way he sees fit. The Super Bowl winner is also expected to bring in an All-Star coaching staff.

Related: Sportsnaut’s offseason NFL power rankings

Loser: Arizona Cardinals shunned by Sean Payton

sean payton trade winners and losers: arizona cardinals
Michael Chow / USA TODAY NETWORK

Arizona was one of the teams most linked to Payton throughout the process. In fact, it received permission to speak with the head coach after a disastrous 2022 season under recently-fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals also had interest in DeMeco Ryans before he ended up signing on with Houston.

If that weren’t bad enough, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn opted to remain in that role rather than potentially take the Cardinals’ head coaching job.

Things are not going great in the desert right now. Arizona won a mere four games this past season. Franchise quarterback Kyler Murray is recovering from a torn ACL and could miss the first half of next season. He’s been seen as a malcontent. Meanwhile, owner Michael Bidwell is not viewed in the best of lights by his counterparts. Sean Payton shunning Arizona is yet another example of this team’s fall from grace.

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