It’s not often you see a lot of a team’s marquee players in the first game of the preseason. It’s even rarer when its the club’s franchise quarterback who they traded for and gave a massive contract to just a year ago.
But that’s exactly what the Denver Broncos are doing this summer in Sean Payton’s first game with the team. The head coach revealed that starters will play in the Broncos’ preseason opener Friday on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. That included quarterback Russell Wilson.
“I haven’t shelled it out yet, but [starters] are going to play,” Payton said after Saturday’s practice, per the Denver Post. “We’ll figure out the snaps. … I don’t have a pitch count. I don’t have an exclusion list … But you can expect to see our guys play a little bit.”
“That would include [Wilson],” Payton added. “He’s a player,”
Payton already said running back Javonte Williams will see preseason action 10 months after he tore his ACL — but perhaps not until the team’s second game.
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Why would Payton play his starters in a meaningless game? Maybe he’s trying to set the pace for the downtrodden team after he lambasted the Broncos’ previous coaching staff as well as the franchise’s current front office.
Perhaps Payton is literally “doing the opposite” of everything the Broncos in 2022 like he said he would in his now-infamous rant. Ex-Broncos head coach Nathanial Hackett didn’t play any starters in the preseason during his one year with the team, a decision that was initially questioned by many and later blamed for the Broncos’ early-season sloppiness. Payton later called Hackett’s coaching tenure “one of the worst” in NFL history, a statement he apologized for and said he regretted.
At the very least, Payton is proving to everyone — the players, the owners and the fans — that he won’t make the same mistakes of his predecessor. Whether that’s the correct decision or not remains to be seen.