Broncos HC Sean Payton and Jets QB Aaron Rodgers have verbal spat over Nathaniel Hackett

Jul 29, 2023; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos Sean Payton speaks following training camp the Centura Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 29, 2023; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos Sean Payton speaks following training camp the Centura Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Following a publicized spat between Sean Payton and Aaron Rodgers, a rivalry could be brewing between the Broncos and Jets. And Nathaniel Hackett is the reason why.

The Broncos stumbled through much of the 2022 NFL season, resulting in an abysmal five-win campaign. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett didn’t even make it the full year before being relieved of duties. Now, future Hall of Famer Sean Payton sets out to pick up the pieces in Denver.

The franchise made a blockbuster move last offseason by acquiring quarterback Russell Wilson for several draft picks and a few veteran players. Wilson suffered the worst stint of his career with the Broncos, often looking lost and far removed from the player he was in Seattle.

While the star signal-caller deserves his fair share of blame, the volatility on the coaching staff doomed this pairing before it ever had a chance. Wilson and Hackett never meshed. Denver ranked dead last in points scored, and Wilson, himself, graded out with the 35th-best PFF passing grade in 2022. For context, there are only 32 NFL teams.

Can Sean Payton make good on his promises with the Broncos?

In place of Hackett, the Broncos sent a first-round pick in 2023 and a pick-swap in 2024 to the Saints for the rights to head coach Sean Payton. Since arriving in Mile High, Payton has been vocal about his intentions with the organization. Not only that, he also isn’t shy about letting the media know what he thinks about Hackett’s performance last season.

Payton talked at length about the team and his vision in an interview last Thursday. At one point, the 59-year-old head coach even said he would be “pissed off” if Denver fails to qualify for the postseason. Going further, Payton spoke about his goals with Wilson at quarterback, hoping the two develop a relationship similar to what he had with Drew Brees in New Orleans.

That wasn’t all, though. Rather than solely placing blame at the feet of his new quarterback, Payton threw a knockout blow toward Hackett. He said that Wilson was working with “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL” in 2022. Sheesh.

Since then, Hackett was hired this offseason as the offensive coordinator in New York. Payton made sure to include Hackett’s new franchise in the verbal onslaught. “The only winning they will be doing is in the offseason,” the impassioned head coach said toward the entire Jets organization.

Aaron Rodgers comes to the defense of Nathaniel Hackett and the Jets

It is particularly interesting that Hackett ended up with the Jets. Many believed Aaron Rodgers was the primary target for Denver last March before it pivoted to Wilson. Now Hackett and Rodgers find themselves in the crosshairs of Payton’s tirade. That makes for a very intriguing wrinkle, especially knowing how personally Rodgers takes stuff of this nature.

In fact, the Hall of Fame signal-caller had his own words for Payton. “[He] should keep my coaches’ names out of his mouth,” Rodgers said matter of factly. He continued, “I thought it was way out of line [and] inappropriate.” Even the word ‘insecure’ got thrown at the new Broncos head coach.

Payton, to his credit, apologized to Hackett and the Jets organization, albeit while using an excuse to preface it. “I had one of those moments where I still had my FOX hat on and not my coaching hat.” He explained further by saying, “It was a learning experience for me. It was a mistake, obviously. I needed a little bit more filter. I said what I said, and obviously, I needed a little bit more restraint, and I regret that.”

Want proof that the Football Gods have a sense of humor? The Broncos and Jets will square off in Week 5. Although Payton walked back his statements Friday, and Jets head coach Robert Saleh took the high road, there will undoubtedly be plenty of animosity between both sides early in October. Get your popcorn and Halloween candy ready.