Sean Payton's Denver7 Things To Do list to get Broncos back on track

Hiring staff, changing culture, making tough free agent decisions on docket
Broncos Payton Football
Posted at 9:10 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 23:10:02-05

DENVER — It was an innocent cliche, notable for how it fit the proper script for this latest beginning.

Sean Payton represents the fifth Broncos coach in eight years, and the first since Gary Kubiak with previous experience in the role. Good coaches follow rituals, create standards with the elasticity of a No. 2 pencil.

"Everything matters," Payton said when asked about the importance of details. "You can’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s only this that’s important.’ Everything matters."

Payton is known for wearing out receivers on lining up a half yard wrong or cutting off a route by a foot. His demands are relentless on quarterbacks. Even how his team reacts after a win is crucial.

"We brought a $30,000 stereo system — Club Dub. We thought it was important, especially on the road, that everyone could hear our locker room celebrating and say, ‘What is going on in there?’ That is creating culture," Payton explained. "With the right people, and with the details..."

That is the goal as Payton aims to end the Broncos' seven-year playoff drought and six-year string of losing seasons. The challenge remains daunting. So I am happy to help with my Denver7 Things To Do list:

Assemble the right coaching staff

Payton did not stumble into 10 winning seasons, nine playoff berths, seven division titles and a Super Bowl ring. He surrounded himself with a strong staff that shared his vision and executed it.

Fractures in last year's staff helped submarine the Broncos as coach Nathaniel Hackett was over his skis, offensive line coach Butch Barry and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley struggled with communication, according to multiple players, and special teams coach Dwayne Stukes failed to improve the special teams.

Seattle's Sean Desai, who worked under Vic Fangio for several years in Chicago, interviewed for the defensive coordinator's job on Tuesday. Kris Richard, last in New Orleans, is a potential candidate for the DC job or another position. Zach Strief, who spent the last two years with the Saints, is expected to become the offensive line coach.

Ronald Curry, the Saints QB coach, is a candidate for the offensive coordinator position, though Payton will call plays.

The right staff matters, especially when those coaches are empowered to hold players accountable.

Create a culture

Payton works. No one disputes that, even as he makes the rounds at the Super Bowl this week in his last official capacity for Fox.

Payton believes a coach can begin establishing a culture "immediately." It starts with the coach.

Payton gives off Mike Shanahan vibes with his intensity.

"You have to be authentic. I can't try to be Bill (Parcells). I have to be who I am. I can laugh at myself, I can be wrong, I can be humble, and I can be confident," Payton said. "I know what it looks like, and I know what it doesn't look like. Sometimes, we are not asking. Sometimes it is not negotiable."

In creating a culture, it is important to identify the players who fit. As Payton admitted, his style is "not for everyone." As such, expect a heavier roster turnover than usual when the Broncos open the 2023 regular season.

Overhaul the offensive line

The Broncos want to run the ball to set up play action and deep strikes. A consistent offensive line remains paramount.

The Broncos could have as many as three new starters at left guard, center and right tackle. I would try to bring back Dalton Risner. He is a proven run blocker, and is reliable.

With left tackle Garett Bolles returning from a significant leg/ankle fracture, he bears watching. Having Risner next to him could help Bolles bounce back.

If the Broncos cannot sign someone like right tackle Mike McGlinchey in free agency, they should draft a tackle for the first time since 2017. And I would look to take an interior lineman.

For Russell Wilson to rebound, the line must improve.

Lift Wilson up

Russell Wilson is not broke. He tried to reinvent himself as Drew Brees last season, a flawed experiment when the Broncos began playing with backup receivers and linemen.

Hackett refused to tell Wilson no. Under Payton, it will be more about us and less about Russ. He will stand up the guardrails and put Wilson in the best position to succeed (see rollouts, bootlegs, moving pocket, called runs).

I expect Wilson to train with Brees in Del Mar, Calif., this offseason to accelerate his learning of Payton's offense. Wilson is excited to work with the new coach and humbled from last season to do everything to make the sequel way better than the original season.

Decide on best weapons

The Broncos have harbored delusions of adequacy regarding their receivers.

Jerry Jeudy is a keeper, and his fifth-year option at nearly $13 million should be picked up. Tim Patrick, whose edge and consistency were sorely missed, will be counted on as he returns from ACL surgery.

After that? I would explore the trade market for Courtland Sutton. He had his second-best season as a Bronco last year, but he boasts two touchdowns and 12.7 yards per reception over his last 26 games.

K.J. Hamler has blurry speed. However, he must be viewed as a luxury given his injury history.

Simply put, the Broncos need to add one more dynamic receiver for Wilson, either through the draft or a moderately priced free agent like Mecole Hardman.

Payton will not play favorites. He will play the best players.

Who stays in free agency?

The Broncos have 16 free agents. Many won't be back.

Defensive end Dre'Mont Jones tweeted Thursday what he told Denver7 after the season's final game. He "wants to be a Bronco" as long as possible. The problem is making the money work. He is due $19.7 million on a franchise tag. That does not make sense given the myriad of roster issues this team faces. Could they get him on a three-year deal for $30 million? If not, a franchise tag and trade could make sense, leaving Denver to address the issue in the draft or with a lower-priced free agent.

It's easy to create an argument for keeping linebacker Alex Singleton, who led the Broncos with 163 tackles. He is fundamentally sound and can play on special teams. He is a winning player.

Dalton Risner would love to stay in Denver, but wants a contract that shows respect. He is line for a four-year deal for $38.2 million, per Spotrac.

Running back Latavius Murray's chances of returning increased with Payton's arrival. He knows and respects Murray, who could provide a nice backup option with a rookie until Javonte Williams is ready (I am cautiously optimistic he's close to 100 percent in October).

Cases can be made for keeping safety Kareem Jackson, but age could work against him and defensive lineman DeShawn Williams, whose future could be tied to Jones.

Details, details, details

This goes back to Payton's strength. He cares about everything. While strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow served as a fall guy, the Broncos' injury issues went way beyond him.

Everything must be examined with the training staff and the resources available on-site for treatment and recovery. There's no excuse for leading the world in hamstring injuries, even with the challenges of playing at altitude.

Better practice plans, better coaches and a boss with his finger on the pulse should go a long way in steering this team back onto the road to redemption.