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HC Sean Payton: Comments about Nathaniel Hackett, 2022 Broncos 'a mistake'

Sean Payton's incredibly candid remarks on the Broncos of 2022 and the figures responsible for their failures were refreshing, but aren't exactly good for business.

Payton told reporters on Friday that he regretted the comments he made about former head coach and current Jets OC Nathaniel Hackett, Denver's offensive line from the 2022 season, and even his team's own general manager in a published interview with USA Today's Jarrett Bell.

"Listen, I had one of those moments where I still had my FOX hat on and not my coaching hat on," Payton explained to reporters during his Friday news conference. "I said this to the team in a meeting yesterday, we've had a great offseason relative to that and I've been preaching that message, and here I am, the veteran, stepping in it. It was a learning experience for me, it was a mistake, obviously. I need a little bit more filter.

"There's a pound of flesh for these guys and as a coach you stick up for them, and after a while we're past that season last year and, you know, I said what I said. Obviously, I needed a little bit more restraint and I regret that.

"That being said, what I told the team is, if it can happen -- I think I'm pretty good relative to working with the media and pretty savvy -- I just had one of the moments. Jarrett (Bell) is a good friend, really good at his job, and two lattes in the morning, first one I see and 40 minutes later I'm regretting it. So, it is what it is"

The most damaging comment Payton made may have been the one that pertained to Broncos GM George Paton, as well as a host of others within the organization. Payton blamed everyone overseeing the Broncos' operation last year, referring to Paton and Hackett among other figures as "the parents who allowed" things to go awry while basking in the glow of acquiring quarterback Russell Wilson.

"That's not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the GM, the president, and everybody else who watched it all happen," Payton told Bell.

An optimist spins Payton's words as an impassioned defense of Wilson, and a firm vote of confidence in the quarterback after Wilson had his worst year. A realist might see it as a bit of hand-washing, or at least setting a precedent in case Denver's 2023 season doesn't go well. Somewhere in between lies the truth, in which Wilson took advantage of a loose set of regulations within the Broncos' organization, but ultimately fell short of the club's goals as part of an operation that was far from a disciplined outfit en route to a 5-12 record that saw Hackett fired before the end of the season.

Payton attempted to mend fences with Broncos brass on Friday.

"The front office and the ownership are the two reasons I came here," Payton explained. "So, George (Paton) and I are close; he was one of the big attractions, he and ownership. My point was it was just across the board organizationally. It wasn't one person."

The fallout from such comments even extended to New York, where Hackett now works on Robert Saleh's staff on the Jets. Payton told reporters that he has yet to speak with the Jets coaches, but said he will at some point.

"Yeah, at the right time. I think the world of Robert (Saleh), I know him," Payton said. "I don't know Nathaniel (Hackett). At the right time. It certainly will bring more interest to the game when we play them, but that seems like years from now. But I'll handle it the right way."

Payton has learned a valuable lesson in the lead-up to his first season back on an NFL sideline. How the Broncos perform, though, will ultimately determine how he's judged.

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