ENGLEWOOD — NFL cut down day is where dreams go to die. Tuesday’s harsh reality clobbered 1,184 players over the head. Less than 50 percent will find jobs on practice squads. It is a difficult process, especially since the players have practiced with the team, in most cases, since April.
The Broncos’ set their 53-man roster by Tuesday’s 2 p.m. deadline, but were last team to release the roster. It remains a fluid situation, a temporary list if you will. Coach Sean Payton has a profile, seeking smart, tough, disciplined, and versatile players. If you think he’s satisfied, you don’t know him.
“If I'd loved where I was at, then I'd probably go home for dinner at 6 (p.m.) I am going to be here until 2 a.m.,” he said. “So maybe that's a way to answer it.”
Finding the right 53 is not just about talent but making the puzzle pieces fit regarding injuries. The Broncos biggest moves on Tuesday were trades. As I speculated, they might, they landed Wil Lutz, but not as a claim. They acquired the kicker from the Saints for a 2024 conditional seventh round pick and shipped tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and a seventh-round 2025 selection to the Eagles for a sixth rounder in 2025.
Several wrinkles must still be ironed out.
Receiver Jerry Jeudy will avoid the injured list, general manager George Paton said, meaning the team believes he will return for the second or third game and not sit out four weeks. But three players are expected to make the team and go on the IR: cornerback K’Waun Williams (ankle surgery), safety P.J. Locke (ankle) and cornerback Riley Moss (sports hernia surgery). That means Denver faced more cuts with vested veterans that they could then bring back a day later, something they did with nose tackle Mike Purcell a year ago.
Per sources, the Broncos released Purcell again, receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey, cornerback Fabian Moreau and offensive lineman Quinn Bailey. Purcell, Moreau and Bailey are expected to return to the roster after players go on the IR. Humphrey is likely to sign on the Broncos' practice squad.
Linebacker Baron Browning (knee surgery) will begin the season on the PUP list, requiring him to miss a minimum of four games. The Broncos first 53 features 20 players who were not with the team in any capacity last season.
As for the mechanics of this process: waiver claims will be processed by 10 a.m. Wednesday, and Denver could add a few players. The 16-man practice squads begin filling up at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Keep this in mind as I list the temporary roster Tuesday since the Broncos currently have four receivers.
QUARTERBACK (2): Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
Wilson calls pressure a privilege. The reality is that there are few players under more pressure to produce than Wilson. Can he mesh in Payton’s offense and return to the top 15 at his position? Stidham showed against the Rams that he is a backup capable of starting, if needed because of injury or ineffectiveness. Ben DiNucci, as expected, was cut and the Broncos want him back on their practice squad.
RUNNING BACK (4): Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin, Michael Burton
Williams is less than 11 months removed from ACL/PCL surgery on his right knee. His inspiring story makes him the starter entering the season, though he will not be a bell cow. Perine is a strong backup and a proven commodity in pass protection and as a receiver on third down. McLaughlin gives the Broncos a rocket burst change of pace and can also help on special teams. He answered, “every challenge,” said GM George Paton. Burton is a brute at fullback, who seeks violence as a blocker. Dwayne Washington has a shot to return on practice squad.
RECEIVER (4): Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Johnson, Marvin Mims Jr.,
They are going to add to this group, obviously. Once one of the team’s deepest positions, the Broncos have been ravaged by two season-ending injuries to Tim Patrick (Achilles) and Jalen Virgil (knee). And Jeudy will miss time to begin the season. The onus is on Sutton to step up even in a heavy-run offense. He has two touchdowns in his last 26 games. Johnson came back from a high-ankle sprain in two weeks, a huge break given the same injury sidelined him last year for two months. Mims makes up for Jeudy’s lost speed. Humphrey appears to have earned a spot with a strong camp and is expected to join the practice squad. Callaway knows the offense having played for Payton previously, but he did not make any big plays this summer. He is a practice squad candidate. A receiver or two could be claimed or acquired.
TIGHT ENDS (4): Adam Trautman, Greg Dulcich, Chris Manhertz, Nate Adkins
Trautman is the most versatile tight end, Dulcich plays the role Albert O filled vs. the Rams and Manhertz – no better name for a blocking tight end – serves as a bodyguard in the run game. Adkins made it as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina because of his ability to play fullback and block.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Garett Bolles, Ben Powers, Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz, Mike McGlinchey, Cam Fleming, Luke Wattenberg, Alex Palczewski, Alex Forsyth.
The offensive line must turn into a strength if this team is to post its first winning season since 2016. Pass blocking remains a concern, but the run fits should be solid, especially with McGlinchey’s knee healthy. Alex Palczewski dislocated his finger and wasn’t at practice, but is on the team in the initial 53, one of four undrafted free agents. Wattenberg’s inclusion is a bit of a surprise because he struggled during training camp. Forsyth, a center, was a 2023 draft pick. Quinn Bailey improved throughout the summer and is expected to return.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Randy Gregory, Jonathon Cooper, Frank Clark, Nik Bonitto, Thomas Incoom
This group began camp as a concern but soothed those with the improvement of Cooper and Bonitto. Gregory is central to the pass rush. He must reach a career high in games and sacks. Cooper profiles as a starter with Clark, who had an uneven camp, and Bonitto rotating freely into the mix. Thomas Incoom made a last push to beat out Aaron Patrick, who failed to make consistent plays on special teams.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5): D.J. Jones, Zach Allen, Jonathan Harris, Matt Henningsen, Elijah Garcia
Health is paramount for the front. The Broncos rush defense depends on Jones stuffing the middle. Harris was rewarded for his resilience and improvement. All Garcia did was make plays in games. This group could face changes as the Cardinals cut nose tackle Rashard Lawrence, somebody that played well for Vance Joseph. He could be a waiver claim. The expectation is that Purcell, who took a paycut a few days ago, will return after the IR moves.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Alex Singleton, Josey Jewell, Drew Sanders, Justin Strnad
Singleton and Jewell are tackling machines. But there’s no denying that Sanders needs playing time in coverage packages and on well-timed blitzes. He’s too good to sit for long. Strnad is a special teams core player.
CORNERBACKS (7): Pat Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, K’Waun Williams, Essang Bassey, Ja’Quan McMillian, Riley Moss, Tremon Smith
Surtain is the league’s best and will prove it again this season. Mathis brings fire to the position and knows he will be tested even as he was banged up at the end of training camp. Williams is underappreciated for his toughness and coverage skills. Losing him for several weeks stings. The good news is that Bassey is reaching his potential, making a living of being in the right spot at the right time. He can play nickel, safety, and special teams. Moss figures to be on the roster for one day before landing on the IR as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. It is possible Fabian Moreau is cut and brought back. Tremon Smith was brought in for his special teams acumen but has served as an upback rather than a kick returner.
SAFETIES (6): Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns, Kareem Jackson, P.J. Locke, JL Skinner, Delarrin Turner-Yell
The talent here is special. Simmons is the league’s center fielder and appears fully recovered from a groin injury suffered in camp. Sterns continues to impress but must stay on the field. Jackson provides experience and leadership. Locke is dealing with an ankle issue. Turner-Yell made a case for himself on special teams. And Skinner's upside is hard to ignore.
SPECIALISTS (3): Wil Lutz, Riley Dixon, Mitchell Fraboni
Brett Maher vs. the world was a running competition the past two weeks. He passed the test, perfect on kicks in games. But it wasn’t enough. Payton opted to go with Lutz, who kicked for him for five seasons in New Orleans. There is risk involved. Lutz struggled last season, converting 23 of 31 attempts, the lowest percentage of his career. But he has a history of making big kicks and was solid this summer for the Saints, despite losing out in the derby. Denver will be on the hook for roughly $1.7 million of Lutz’s contract.