Everything we learned about the Denver Broncos from Sean Payton and George Paton at the NFL Combine

Zac Stevens Avatar
February 27, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time since the end of the season, Sean Payton and George Paton spoke to the media on Tuesday at the NFL Combine.

While the majority of the press conferences revolved around Russell Wilson’s future and what the Denver Broncos will do at the quarterback position, there were still many other news worthy headlines to come out of Indianapolis.

Here’s everything you need to know from the Broncos’ head coach and general manager.

Russell Wilson decision coming soon

For the first time, Payton put a definitive timeframe on when the Broncos will make a decision on Russell Wilson’s future.

“Next two weeks,” Payton told the media.

All signs point to the Broncos releasing Wilson, especially after George Paton indicated there is currently no trade market for the highly-paid quarterback.

If the Broncos do move on from Wilson, they must do so before Mar. 17 when his 2025 salary becomes fully guaranteed. Payton made it clear they will not wait until the last moment to make their decision.

Read the full story on Payton’s latest update on Wilson’s future here.

McCarthy meeting

The Broncos have already started looking for their next quarterback, even with Wilson still on the roster.

On Tuesday night at the NFL Combine, the Broncos will meet with Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, Paton announced.

Denver will do their due diligence on quarterbacks in the draft and they’ll do it with confidence.

“I think we’ll be really good at this,” the head coach stated, talking about evaluating quarterbacks. “And I think, to some degree, we’re glad that a lot of people aren’t.”

Landing Leonhard

The Broncos allowed defensive backs coach Christian Parker to leave Denver and join the Eagles staff because he was promoted to passing game coordinator under Vic Fangio in Philadelphia.

“Christian’s really sharp. I’d say his degree, if you will, in defensive football is in that scheme. He was a pleasure to work with. I’m excited that he has that opportunity,” Payton said about letting Parker leave Denver. “Vic and I talked at length about Christian. He was one of the coaches that we kept from last year’s staff.”

Shortly after allowing Parker to leave, the Broncos hired Jim Leonhard to take his spot as the team’s defensive backs coach.

“Jim was someone that I had spoken with last offseason,” Payton said. “He actually played for us briefly. I know he played for Denver for a year. He had hip replacement surgery last year, so he was going to be in a position where he couldn’t commit to a full time job. He helped out Illinois.”

“I think that he’s extremely bright and he was as a player. He solved all the problems as a player,” Payton added. “He’s got one of these high ceilings that we see with some young coaches. I say young, but it’s kind of all relative. I think a lot of him, and we spent a lot of time on that process.”

More Mims

Through the first four games of his rookie season, Marvin Mims Jr. was on pace to have over 1,000 receiving yards.

The rest of the season, however, Mims had a total of 135 receiving yards.

Don’t blame the rookie for the massive drop-off in production.

“I really think the only thing that really stopped his progress as a receiver was us and trying to find roles,” Payton stated. “He’s playing the same position as Jerry [Jeudy]. I’ve said this a number of times, I think you’re going to see a lot of growth with this player. He’s tough, he can run and we’re certainly excited that we have him.”

Mims “flourished” as a returner, according to the head coach, and made the Pro Bowl because of it. Payton expects him to be more than just an elite returner for the team.

“Every time we’ve kind of put his name on a certain play, he hasn’t disappointed,” Payton said. “That doesn’t mean the ball always went to him but the point I’m making is I think his progress was hampered a little bit more with the depth in the room, in what we were able to do and sometimes trying to balance that out. I think we’ll see that expand.”

Expect more Mims in his sophomore season.

Financial flexibility

The NFL salary cap took a bigger leap than expected, jumping from $224 million in 2023 to $255 million in 2024.

“It impacts us as it just provides more flexibility than we thought we had,” Paton said about the $31 million jump. “We felt like we were going to be able to do what we needed to do and then we got the spike. Now maybe we can do more or plan more for the future. So it just provides us and really all the teams with more flexibility moving forward.”

The big leap won’t change the way the Broncos approach free agency, however.

“We’re going to be strategic. We’re not going to be as aggressive as last year,” Paton stated. “We have flexibility, but we’re going to just be more measured and try to fill specific positions and specific needs throughout the team. I feel like we’ll have the flexibility to do that, but we can’t do that every year and be aggressive like we were last year.”

No team spent more money in free agency last year than Denver.

Trade up or down?

With the 2024 NFL Draft still two months away, there’s already been speculation the Broncos could trade up or down in the first round.

One scenario would be significantly easier for the team to pull off.

“Tt’s easier to trade down with where we are at No. 12,” Paton said. “It just depends on who’s there. We feel like there’s going to be 12-15 players that we have high grades on. Where we’re picking is going to be very valuable if we do want to move down.”

However, that doesn’t mean the Broncos won’t trade up. But they would have to truly be in love to make that move.

“I think you’d really have to love someone,” Paton said, when asked about moving into the top three. “To move up to the [No.] 1 [pick], I don’t know if we have the draft capital to do that. We’re open for anything, but that would be hard to move up to No. 1, realistically.”

Going from No. 12 to the top pick in the draft would cost three first-round picks, a few second-round picks and a star player, at a minimum.

Love Lloyd?

After having a breakout season in 2023, the Broncos would love to have Lloyd Cushenberry back next year. But there’s a catch.

“We really value Lloyd and thought he had one of his best seasons. We’d love to have Lloyd back but then what’s behind Lloyd? We feel we feel good about [Luke] Wattenberg. We feel really good about [Alex] Forsyth. We feel like there’s depth,” Paton stated. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to sign Lloyd. We’d love to sign him, but we do feel like that’s a position we do have the depth and one of those guys could be a starter eventually.”

The Broncos drafted Forsyth and Wattenberg in the past two drafts. With Cushenberry expected to receive a big contract on the open market, the team could save money by going young at the position.

Sanders outside or inside?

Drew Sanders started his rookie season at inside linebacker before ending the season at outside backer.

According to Paton, the team hasn’t decided which position Sanders will settle into, but they are leaning one direction.

“It’s a work in progress,” the general manager said. “We thought he finished well on the edge. We’re going sit down with Drew and the coaches, and we’ve had those meetings. I think he’ll probably end up on the edge, but he has the flexibility. He’s so talented. It’s hard.”

“It’s kind of like [OLB] Baron Browning,” Paton added. “We interviewed a kid last night from Notre Dame who’s played inside and outside. It’s a blessing and sometimes it’s a curse because he can’t get settled in at one position. Once we left Drew at outside, he finished strong and so we feel good about Drew moving forward.”

Fifth-year option is all but Surtain

By May 2, the Broncos must make the decision of whether or not to exercise Pat Surtain II’s fifth-year option for the 2025 season.

The $19 million option, while it isn’t cheap, is a no-brainer decision.

“That’s an easy one,” Paton said with a smile. “That’s one of the easier decisions we’ll make.”

As for a long-term deal for the All-Pro cornerback, the team will “look into it.”

“We have a lot going on. Before that, we have free agency then we have the draft,” Paton explained. “Pat is going to be here. Obviously we value Pat, and we’ll see where that goes. We’ll work on that.”

Currently, Jaire Alexander is the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, making $21 million a season.

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