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Everything we learned about the Denver Broncos from Sean Payton, George Paton, Greg Penner & Damani Leech at the NFL Annual League Meeting

Zac Stevens Avatar
March 25, 2024

ORLANDO — Before Monday, the last time the Denver Broncos’ brass addressed the media, Russell Wilson was the team’s quarterback, Justin Simmons was on the roster and the team had not announced new uniforms.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

On Monday, Sean Payton, George Paton, Greg Penner and Damani Leech addressed the media at the NFL Annual League Meetings.

It’s safe to say, there was plenty to catch up on.

Here’s everything you need to know about what the Broncos’ brass said from sunny Orlando.

Trading up?

The Broncos have the 12th pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. For now.

That could very well change in the next month.

“I think it’s realistic,” Sean Payton said, when asked if the team could trade up in the first round of the draft. “It’s realistic. What’s hard to predict, though, is what’s on the receiving end? I think it’s good to be [Cardinals General Manager] Monti [Ossenfort] today at Arizona. It’s hard to predict what the cost is and yet, I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s unrealistic. We will pay close attention to it.”

Internally, the Broncos have already had those conversation. Additionally, George Paton has started the process of talking to other teams to see what it would cost to make a move.

“I’ve talked to most of the teams ahead of us and I’ve talked to a lot of teams behind. It is a little early, but I know who’s willing to move,” Denver’s general manager said on Monday. “You kind of know the teams that are typically willing to move. You always want to know how much it is to move up and then the same with how much you get if you move back. We will have a good lay of the land by the time we get two weeks ahead of the draft.”

In what situation would the Broncos make a trade up in the draft? If they fall in love.

“If there’s a player you love, Sean talked about being in love with a player, then you do whatever it takes to go get him,” Paton stated. “But we don’t want to panic. There’s going to be a really good player at 12. Unless we have a total consensus love for another player, we’ll stay at 12 or we’ll move back.”

McCarthy Meeting

In the early portion of Payton’s Monday morning press conference, the head coach made it clear he would not be talking about individual draft prospects.

Minutes later, he went out of his way to break his own rule.

“I wasn’t at [Michigan QB] J.J [McCarthy’s] pro day, but we had a private [workout] the next day where we sent him a bunch of information, [and] spent four or five hours with him, just made him throw all over again,” Payton admitted.

Later in the day, Denver’s general manager had some fun with the head coach divulging that information willingly to the media.

“I don’t want to get into the workouts guys. I’m glad Sean told everyone, but he’s a very nice young man,” Paton said with a laugh, when asked about how McCarthy’s workout went. “We’ve done private workouts with other players at other positions. We had a good visit.”

No other quarterback has shot up draft boards more in the past month than the Michigan Man.

New Uniforms

The biggest non-football news of the day was the official announcement the team will have new uniforms this season.

“I would say, quite honestly, it’s good and a bit of a relief to let the fans know and confirm we will have new uniforms next season,” president Damani Leech announced from Orlando, an hour after the team dropped a tease on social media. “It’s been a great process across the organization between staff and ownership, particularly [Owner] Carrie [Walton Penner], who has really driven this process. [There has been] player involvement and fan involvement. We are really excited to finally move in that direction.”

Leech added the official unveiling of the uniforms will happen in the next few weeks.

“Same colors and same logo, but a full redesign of the uniform,” Leech stated.

The new uniforms will also include the option for multiple helmets.

“We had over 10,000 survey responses from our fans, which was great. Most of them—three quarters—wanted new uniforms and most of them wanted to keep the same colors and logo. We tried to be true that, but also wanted to go through this process authentically,” Leech added.

The Broncos started the process of redesigning their uniforms with Nike and the NFL in Jan. 2023. The ownership group and other Broncos executives went to Nike’s headquarters in Oregon last spring to jumpstart the process.

“I think part of the process that we went through was talking about what’s important to the Broncos and what’s important in the Broncos fan base,” Leech said. “Wanting to evolve and be new and different, but also being respectful of our history and traditions and understanding our surroundings. I think from a geographic standpoint, there’ll be nods to that. I think people will be really excited about it.”

A small select group of current players were involved in the process too.

Stidham Starting?

As it stands, Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci are the only two quarterbacks on the Broncos’ roster.

While another quarterback move or two will be made, as of now, Stidham will compete for the starting job.

“He’s definitely competing to be the starter. I don’t think we have a term ‘driver’s seat’ really. He is going to compete for that position,” Payton stated. “I know he’s anxious and excited to do that. I’m sure there will be other candidates who will be competing with him.”

At the Annual League Meeting last year, shortly after the team signed Stidham to a two-year, $10 million contract, Payton praised the team’s new quarterback, saying he had the upside to be a starter in the NFL.

That vision has not changed a year later.

“Relative to his vision, it’s kind of exactly where we saw it a year ago. We felt like this is a player who can compete, and we felt like he has some upside,” Payton said. “[He’s] a young player that has really played a limited amount of snaps relative to the years he has been in the league. Did anything change in those last two games leading to this season? I can’t say in fairness to him or the process definitively that anything did other than we still feel really positive about this player. We’re anxious to see him when he’s getting a lot more snaps and work with the No. 1’s.”

Payton added he does not believe Stidham has reached his ceiling.

“I just don’t think we’re there,” Payton said, when asked if Stidham has hit his ceiling. “Generally speaking, I do think that’s something that the fans, the media and the coaches, probably arrived there within a week or two of each other, but in fairness to [Stidham], I’m anxious to see where that spot is that we say, ‘All right, that’s it.’ I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

Another quarterback is on the way

Whether it’s the draft, free agency or a trade, the Broncos will add a quarterback or two before the season starts.

In fact, Paton confirmed the team was involved in the free agent quarterback market and still is.

“We were involved. We talked about all these quarterbacks,” Paton stated. “Some just weren’t great fits for what we’re trying to do. We didn’t just want to add one to add one. Then you multiply your problem. There were some quarterbacks we liked, it just didn’t work out. That’s as part of free agency. We’ve looked at the trade market.”

“We’re still in the quarterback market,” Paton continued. “We like ‘Stiddy’, but we’re going to add. We are not panicked. We won’t play games for a while. We feel like we will add a veteran, and we’ll see about the draft.”

As Broncos Country’s angst grows over the uncertainty at the most important position in sports, Sean Payton has a simple message: “I would rather the angst be now rather than in September and October.”

“I think we have a pretty good plan in place, and we understand what we are doing. We are going to be smart about it,” Payton stated about the quarterback position. “We weren’t just going to sign a quarterback to sign one. We will be smart about our thoughts relative to who’s coming in and most importantly what the vision is for the player.”

New facility update

Last year, the Broncos announced their plans for a brand new $175 million headquarters at the same location Centura Health Training Center is currently located.

On Monday, Broncos executives provided an update to their new facility, which is scheduled to open for the 2026 season.

“We are in the design phase now and at a fairly good level of detail. It is really exciting when these things start to come together,” Leech said.

The team is still working through whether or not they’ll start construction before or after training camp this year.

“We’re weighing that as we speak, and trying to figure out how that’ll work,” Leech added. “I think either way, there’s going to be fans at training camp. We’re going to work really hard to make sure they’re seated safely and comfortably. It may be in a different location, obviously, if we start construction, but more to come on that.”

The team would like to avoid moving training camp away from team headquarters during construction.

“Our goal is to have training camp where it is, and have fans be able to attend it,” Leech stated. “It may not be as many fans as we’ve historically had, but that’s our goal. That’s what we’re working towards.”

There was no update given on a potential new stadium for the team, but the organization is still looking into all options.

“We continue to explore it and research it. All options are on the table,” Leech said, when asked about the future of the stadium. “Renovations, significant renovations, new build, different location, all of those things are on the table.”

Owner Greg Penner did break a bit of news during his press conference as he announced the team is replacing the turf inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse this offseason.

“It’s about 10 years old. I believe the life of it was intended to be about 20 years, but we’re going to replace it with a state-of-the-art artificial surface that’s going to be better for our players with more padding and a different material,” Penner said. “It is something that they should really feel the impact of during our practices.”

The decision to make the upgrade was made after talking with Payton and Vice President of Player Health and Performance Beau Lowery.

“We knew we’re going to make a change at some point, so why not go ahead and do that now if it’s better for our players,” Penner added.

Free agent signings

On the field, the Broncos added two pieces to their starting unit during the first few days of free agency.

Their first, and biggest, move was signing safety Brandon Jones to a three-year contract worth more than $20 million.

“His role for us—we see him as a safety. There will be some flexibility with him, P.J. [Locke III] and certainly the other guys competing in that room—Caden [Sterns], who’s been injured. The flexibility of playing right and left maybe more so than designated as strong or free, that was important,” Payton stated about the addition. “[He’s] really athletic and a guy that—it was a little different approach this year, but a guy that was one of our targets.”

Paton added Jones is a player he’s always liked.

“I like the makeup. He can play high and low. He has good range. If you watch the ’21 tape, Brian Flores used him as a blitzer. This guy is a really good blitzer. I think he had five sacks,” Denver’s general manager said. “I thought he was playing at an elite level before he tore the ACL in 2022. It was good to see him come back in Miami, but I like the range, I like the toughness, and I like his ability to blitz. I think it’s a good piece for [Defensive Coordinator] Vance [Joseph].”

Up front, Denver signed run-stuffing defensive lineman Malcolm Roach to a two-year deal worth up to $8 million.

“He’s tough, he’s hard-nosed, and he’s a guy that gives you a little bit of position flex. He can play the nose and he can move over to play the three-technique. You see him playing across the front,” Payton said about Roach, who he coached in New Orleans in 2020 and 2021. “I think that until this year—really the last part of the season—he’s been a healthy guy that can give you 35 to 40 snaps a game. He’s got great makeup, he’s smart and he’s tough.”

Paton added Roach is “physical” and “violent at the point of attack.”

“He’s really going to help our run game,” the general manager stated. “I talked about that at the Combine that we need to help our run game. I think he does that, and he’s got great makeup as well.”


After taking on a record-setting $85 million in dead cap by moving on from Russell Wilson and releasing Justin Simmons, there is a fair assumption the Broncos are rebuilding.

“I get that,” Payton said, when asked if the team is rebuilding. “I don’t understand—in our league, you regroup and you get ready to play. We’re still in the midst of assembling our roster. If you paid attention to that, there are a ton of different seasons—and I’ve been a part of it—that never would have had the success we had relative to the expectations. We have to get better in a lot of areas and we’re excited to do that.”

“I think Sean [Payton] said ‘retool.’ We’re excited for the challenge. Other teams have been through this and came out ahead,” the general manager said, agreeing with his head coach. “We want to build the right way for sustained success. We plan on doing that, and we’re excited for the challenge.”

“I know I am personally really excited about George and Sean, spend a good amount of time with them, hearing their vision, the program they’re trying to build—really for long-term, sustained success,” Leech added when asked about this. “So I’m excited about it, enthusiastic about it, optimistic about it.”

“We’re passionate about being competitive. That’s both in the short term and the long term. You can call it sort of whatever you want, but our focus is on putting the best possible team on the field this coming year,” Penner stated. “I don’t think there are any shortcuts or quick fixes. We’re going to do this the right way and have this team be competitive this coming season, but also be in a position to build for the future.”

Whatever the Broncos are doing, they certainly aren’t calling it a rebuild.

Raging for Rager

One of the first moves the Broncos made this offseason was hiring Cody Rager to be the team’s vice president of player personnel.

“Cody was someone I was familiar with. Obviously we spent a number of years together at New Orleans,” Payton said about the hire. “He has a great eye for talent. He’s probably, in my opinion, was our best evaluator in New Orleans, relative to college players.”

Rager spent nearly the last decade with the Saints, a majority of that under Payton.

“He was one where, probably, if you looked at the middle rounds—if you just did, hey take the second through the sixth rounds in 10-year stretch there and just look at the data there. I don’t care who it was we read, I would turn to Cody and if he hadn’t seen him, I would want to make sure he saw him,” Payton explained. “So someone who I think is really good, was trained at Alabama under [Nick] Saban. He knows how to read a player, [he’s] an asset. So we felt it was a good opportunity for him.”

Rager will work on both the college and pro scouting for Denver.

The final goodbye

Finally, the Russell Wilson era was officially put to a close on Monday as Broncos leadership talked about releasing their franchise quarterback for the first time.

“We felt that it was in the best interest of our team,” Payton said about why the team released Wilson before free agency began. “It’s always difficult when you take on a cap hit like that. We spent some time deciding how we were going to take that, then we move forward.”

Paton, who was the one in charge when the team pulled off the blockbuster trade for the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, wished Wilson the best moving forward with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“We took a shot on a quarterback who had a lot of success in this league,” the general manager said. “[He has] nine Pro Bowls and won the most games in his first 10 years in the league. It wasn’t just ‘Russ’. There were a lot of contributing factors to why we didn’t win. At the end of the day, we didn’t play good enough offense, and we didn’t win enough games. I’m accountable for that. I’ll just leave it at that.”

“No one tried harder than ‘Russ’ to make this work, and we appreciate the effort and professionalism that he showed,” Paton added. “[He’s a] total pro. I wish him the best in Pittsburgh. He’s going to a good team and just wish him the best.”

Now the Broncos are focused on finding their long-term answer at the most important position in sports.


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