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Keeler: Sean Payton has replaced Russell Wilson as face of Broncos. And he’s not done purging yet. “You have to win.”

You ask if Sean Payton is done, and Roman Harper laughs. Of the Saints the Broncos coach marched to the Super Bowl XLIV, the ones who flummoxed Peyton Manning and the Colts, only six players remained from the roster Payton inherited four years earlier.

“In New Orleans, it was the same,” offered Harper, the SEC Network analyst and ex-Alabama great who played his first eight NFL seasons under Payton in New Orleans. “But he believes in his way. Because if you’ve had success doing it one time when you’re young, you’re going to believe you can do it again.”

Big Easy football icon Deuce McAllister, who’d literally carried the Saints across the line for years, was released after 2008, Payton’s third season as coach. In 2006, Payton’s first season in Louisiana, the Saints were led by a Pro Bowl stalwart who was strong on the field and even better off it, a giving soul who’d visited fans displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The Saints cut him the next March. Joe Horn, meet Justin Simmons.

“I’m not shocked,” Harper told me by phone Tuesday, about the time linebacker Josey Jewell joined Simmons, Russell Wilson and Jerry Jeudy in the Broncos Alumni Club. “I would say this any time a new regime comes in, that none of those things shock you.

“It should put everybody on heightened awareness. It’s about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. I think (Payton) runs a tight ship. He’s not (just) a players’ coach, so you just have to — he wants the sustained success, so you have to win.”

Of the six Broncos named captains before Week 1 last season, three of them — Wilson, Simmons and Kareem Jackson — are now off the roster. A fourth, Courtland Sutton, recently scrubbed any references to playing for the Broncos off of his Instagram and “X” accounts.

“Then you see somebody like Russell Wilson being let go and still being owed a huge amount of money,” Harper continued. “What it tells you is that the (Broncos) ownership group chose Payton and his future over Russell Wilson.”

Payton’s replaced Big Russ as the face of Broncos Country, love it or lump it. And those who know him best say he’s just getting warmed up.

“Winning cures everything,” Harper said. “So when you don’t win, it’s changes that always happen. Nobody gets to have a non-winning season in the NFL and then change doesn’t happen.”

Harper was part of Payton’s first draft class in New Orleans 18 years ago, probably the greatest one-year haul in franchise history: tailback Reggie Bush in the first round; safety Harper in the second; guard Jahri Evans in the fourth; defensive end Rob Ninkovich in the fifth; and guard and future Broncos offensive line coach Zach Strief and wideout Marques Colston in the seventh.

To hear Harper tell it, Sunshine Sean and Big Russ were doomed from the start. Each was too stubborn, too set in their respective ways, to come around to the other guy’s vantage.

“(Wilson) was just never a natural fit,” Harper said. “Russ likes to cook. It’s more of an off-schedule, roll around a bit (style) … it’s never a 3-step-drop or a 5-step drop-and-throw.

“Although I don’t know what (the Steelers) are trying to run now, but Ben Roethlisberger was never a QB that threw on time, consistently. He was never the 5-step-drop-and-throw (type), the way Sean would would probably love his offense to be run and be coordinated.

“It was a little bit difficult for Russ. So that (breakup) never surprised me.”

As a Bill Parcells disciple, Payton has always been down on free spirits, down on me-first guys. During his first training camp with the Saints, he opened a meeting by putting the names of the 2004 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball roster up on an overhead projector, a star-studded group that included Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, and a teenaged LeBron James, all coached by Larry Brown.

“Look at these players. This is one of the greatest collections of talent ever assembled,” he reportedly said of the Olympians, who lost by 19 to Puerto Rico and wound up with the bronze. “But they didn’t win. They weren’t the best team.

Winning cures everything. Until that corner turns, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many bodies get chucked under the bus, nobody’s truly safe.

“And so sometimes, you’ve got to go young,” Harper said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to flip a roster upside down to get the results needed.”

Four paths will get you off Broncos Parkway or Potomac Street and onto the Centura Health Training Center campus. But only two roads really count in Dove Valley anymore: Sean’s way or the highway. And ne’er the twain.

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