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Everything we learned from Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton in his end-of-season press conference

Henry Chisholm Avatar
January 9, 2024

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos held end-of-season press conferences on Tuesday, with head coach Sean Payton, general manager George Paton and owner and CEO Greg Penner all taking the stage.

Here’s what we learned from Broncos head coach Sean Payton…

Russell Wilson might be back

After Payton benched quarterback Russell Wilson for the season’s final two weeks, it appeared that Wilson’s time in Denver was done.

Payton says that isn’t the case.

The coach and quarterback met for 30 minutes on Monday. Payton explained that the team was unsure of how it would proceed.

 “We’ll look at all the scenarios and try to do what is best for the Broncos,” Payton said.

(For the full story on what Sean Payton, George Paton and Greg Penner said about Wilson’s future, CLICK HERE.)

The season wasn’t successful

Sean Payton won’t call the Broncos’ 2023 season a success.

“My appetite is where it should be—a little bit stronger,” he said. “I said this at the beginning of the season, and it was really a discussion off the record. I felt like we had a chance, and this team had a chance to get into the postseason. I feel that same way now.”

The Broncos ended a 16-game losing streak to the Chiefs, posted their best record since 2016 and improved their win total by three compared to last year.

To Payton, you are what your record says you are.

“We finished where our record was,” he said. “We could point to a few games that would have gotten us to nine or 10 [wins], but we could point to a few games that got us to six really quickly as well. That’s generally the case each year.”

Mostly, Payton sees his first season in Denver as a starting point that the Broncos need to build off of.

“[There’s] no pass-fail, success-non-success,” Payton said. “It is what it is. [It] just leaves a taste in your mouth, [leaves] you [looking] forward to the work.”

Turnovers were the key to the turnaround

Payton thinks he knows why the Broncos turned their season around.

“We rapidly changed how we took the ball away, and then we began to protect the ball,” he said.

The Broncos were 8-1 when they won the turnover battle. They were 0-8 when they lost it.

“That’s pretty typical of a team that’s right in the middle of the pack,” he said. “The better teams will have one or two wins, even when they lose [the turnover battle]. Then the teams way down at the bottom might lose even when they win it.”

The season took a familiar path

Payton went to the playoffs nine times during his 15 seasons as the Saints’ head coach. A couple of those non-postseason campaigns felt similar to 2023.

“Two different times in my career we started off 0-4—here it was 1-5,” Payton said. “The one thing that happened was you found that grit to bounce back and got to where we got. There’s a lot of energy that is expended in doing that. In those prior two seasons, the results finished similar. You dig yourself in a hole, and there’s quite a bit of energy to get back out of it.”

After expending so much energy to save the season, Payton still can’t figure out how to close the deal down the stretch.

“Even as we’re sitting at that, as a coach, I’m thinking, ‘How do we prevent this from happening again?’” Payton said. “Yet, it still happened here.”

The Broncos’ offensive foundation isn’t built

If it wasn’t clear when Payton benched his quarterback, it should be now: he isn’t happy with his offense’s performance.

“Were we as good as we expected or wanted to be offensively this year? Absolutely not,” he said. “I would say clearly [it’s a] heavy-duty work in progress.”

A few areas stand out, including third-down offense and red-zone success rate, especially in goal-to-go situations.

“The 10-yard line and in sticks out—that’s unusual,” he said. “That bothered me a lot. Those are four-point swings, really, if you kick a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.”

While the terminology has been installed, Payton isn’t ready to say the offensive foundation has been laid.

“I would say we’re not building on that foundation yet; we’re still putting the pilings in based on what I saw.”

The salary cap will be a puzzle

One of Sean Payton’s final messages to his team was to stay in touch.

During the NFL offseason, rumors swirl. Some guys might be in trade rumors. Others might have potential contract details leak. Rumors can create chaos.

Sean Payton told his team what to do if they’re nervous about what they’re hearing.

 “Just call or come by and visit,” he said. “The lines of communication, today more than ever, are really important.”

The Broncos enter the offseason nearly $20 million over the salary cap. That means tough decisions will need to be made.

“It’s a new puzzle every year.”

Player evaluations begin next week

The first step of the offseason is evaluating what happened during the season.

Following a week off to clear their heads, the Broncos’ staff will reconvene to begin grading their roster. They’ll figure out their strengths and weaknesses as they enter the team-building phase of the NFL calendar.

“We kind of start from where we’re at right now, relative to our team evaluation, then, we get into the evaluation of the other free agents in our league,” Payton said. “Then, it transitions to the draft.”

Those evaluations also apply to the coaching staff and if any changes must be made.

“We’ll look closely, just as we do with our own roster, at what we’re doing,” Payton said. “We just haven’t started that process yet.”

Sean made a hilarious mistake

When asked what he’s trying to improve on this offseason personally, Payton said he wants to get his eyes fixed.

“I want to get my eyes fixed, so I call the right play and I don’t mess up and call the wrong play,” he said. “That happened one time this year. That was embarrassing.”

Payton gave a real reason, too. 

“I’m sure as we go through this process, there are going to be a number of other things, but I think that I’m comfortable and far enough along doing this that I can easily be swayed or moved.

“I think it’s easier when you get older and more secure with who you are and what you do. When you’re younger, I think oftentimes you can be very defensive with certain things.”

Payton is going to rely on his assistants during the self-evaluation process.

“It’s one thing to be somewhere where everyone tells you what you want to hear,” he said, “but the value of a coach that tells me sometimes what I need to hear, I appreciate.”

He enjoys working with George Paton

Payton has been the Broncos’ head coach for nearly a year, and he’s worked with general manager George Paton that entire time.

Rumors have swirled about Paton’s future with the Broncos, but Payton expects him to continue in his role.

“We’ve had a really good working relationship from the beginning. All that has gone well. We communicate two, three, four times per day. That’s worked out really well.”

(Click here for everything George Paton said on Tuesday.)

(Click here for everything Greg Penner said on Tuesday.)

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