Russell Wilson has slimmed down everything from his waistline to his social media presence — which, by the way, is still a lot, but much less than before — but has he fattened up his chances of winning the long-term faith of new head coach Sean Payton?
OK, enough with the weight-based analogies already, but Wilson’s trim physique was the biggest topic of conversation at the Denver Broncos‘ initial OTAs last week, as the franchise hopes that a combination of a rejuvenated QB and Payton’s tactical zeal will spark a necessary turnaround.
After a 2022 campaign that was dismal and dispiriting, with Wilson managing 16 touchdowns against 11 interceptions as the Broncos skidded to a 5-12 record, the 34-year-old certainly seems to have a fresh focus.
For his own sake, that needed to happen. Patience, under the new regime, may be sparser than the mile-high air.
Wilson’s quiet months have clearly looked different too. Usually, the period that follows the Super Bowl is filled with his gleaming photos of various jet-setting trips, plus a sometimes dizzying array of endorsements and hype videos.
This time, not so much. Make of that what you will, but it would be easy to draw a line between Payton’s famed no-nonsense approach and what appears to be some kind of “mindset reset” for Wilson, who probably feels he has a point to prove — and he’s right.
“I’m lean, mean and ready to go,” Wilson told reporters. “You always want to be in the best shape of your life. I’m ready for that. I’m better than ever.”
Payton wasted little time in stamping his authority on the job after he was announced as the new leader in early February, following the firing of Nathaniel Hackett after just a single season in charge.
Some of the coach’s first public comments in the role involved making it clear that Wilson’s personal QB coach, Jake Heaps, would not be welcome to work in the Broncos’ building, contrary to past protocol.
And while there is not immediately a serious competition for the Broncos QB1 spot, it did not escape local notice about how vociferous Payton was in his enthusiasm for new QB2 Jarrett Stidham, who signed a free-agent deal having started just two games in his pro career.
“His arrow is moving in a direction where we think he can become an NFL starter,” Payton said of Stidham.
ESPN NFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum added to the Broncos QB discourse last week, saying “Russell Wilson isn’t fighting for his legacy, he’s fighting for his job … They (Denver) will draft his replacement if he (Wilson) doesn’t do everything he (Payton) says from day one.”
If you think those remarks were nothing more than coincidental, then you’re a dear, sweet, trusting soul and I want to give you a hug. But let’s be real. The message from Payton, to Wilson and everyone else, is out. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to have to earn your stripes.
There is a sense of itchy nervousness in Denver. Payton’s addition has brought some optimism, but fans remain fearful that unless Wilson can look drastically different than he did last year, the deal to land him could swiftly start resembling an all-time stinker.