The Broncos have reportedly agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints in a trade for the rights to head coach Sean Payton. The Broncos will give up a first-round pick in 2023 and a second-round pick in 2024, while the Saints will send Payton (who still needs to sign a contract) and a 2024 third-round pick.
While the contract isn’t official yet, it’s time for Payton to start
Hire Vic Fangio and Pete Carmichael
Ejiro Evero did great work as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in his lone season. Now, he’s rightfully in talks to become a head coach with various teams.
While keeping Evero would be a good move, bringing back Vic Fangio would be a great one.
Fangio was fired as the Broncos’ head coach one year ago, but his defensive prowess was never in doubt. Many teams across the league have stolen from his version of the 3-4 defense, including Evero. But why keep the mentee when you can hire the mentor… especially when Evero is probably within a couple of years of leaving for a head coach job anyway.
Fangio’s first day back in the locker may be awkward, but the awkwardness will pass quickly.
On the offensive side, the coordinator race figures to be more open.
Pete Carmichael has been the Saints’ offensive coordinator since 2009 and took over play-calling duties when Payton left after last season. Fans aren’t in love with Carmichael’s performance, though, and the Saints’ front office may feel similarly. If that’s the case, New Orleans may allow Carmichael to leave town in favor of the Broncos.
If the Saints don’t grant permission, former Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and current Saints run game coordinator Dan Roushar should be among the top of the list of candidates. Both have extensive histories with Payton.
Bring back Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and Jerry Rosburg to coach the special teams, too.
Cut the fat at outside linebacker
Thanks to the dozens of roster moves the Broncos made last season to combat a plague of injuries, they currently have 62 players under contract for the 2023 season, which is the most in the NFL.
It’s time to cut the fat.
Denver’s 2022 season was (obviously) disappointing but one of the bright sides was that most of their depth players had plenty of opportunities to gain experience. As crazy as it sounds, the Broncos’ depth is actually really, really solid.
Outside linebackers Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Jake Martin, Jonathon Cooper, Nik Bonitto will all belong on their roster next season. Jonathan Kongbo, Aaron Patrick and Chris Allen would be key special teamers if there was room for them. Trading one, two, or even more of their outside linebackers for more draft picks and cap space would be a good decision. Clearing space for an upgrade at pass rusher might be the best way to move forward.
Payton could go even further than reshuffling the edge rushers.
Center Lloyd Cushenberry, cornerback Lamar Jackson, nose tackle Mike Purcell, defensive end Jonathan Harris, safety Caden Sterns, safety PJ Locke, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, wide receiver KJ Hamler or wide receiver Kendall Hinton could be worth moving, too… if Payton wants to do a mini-rebuild this offseason. Some of those players may not garner interest, but even Day 3 picks will be valuable for the Broncos as they pay the bill for Payton and Russell Wilson.
Build an offensive line
In New Orleans, Sean Payton’s teams always invested in their interior offensive lines. Maybe that was because Payton thought a strong offensive line would fit Drew Brees well, or maybe it’s a philosophy he’ll bring to Denver.
Regardless, it’s time to invest a ton of capital in their offensive line.
Garett Bolles should be back at left tackle and Quinn Meinerz should be back after a stellar second season at right guard. Everybody else’s job should be up for grabs.
The cost of two or three new starting linemen will be high, but well worth the cost. The Broncos led the NFL with 63 sacks allowed in 2022. They haven’t had the same opening day starter at right tackle in back-to-back seasons since Orlando Franklin in the early 2010s.
Protecting Russell Wilson is important. Giving Russell Wilson a running game is important. Build a high-end starting line, then use mid- and late-round draft picks over the next few years to develop a pipeline behind them.
Find a receiving back
The Broncos need more juice in their passing game, but it’s tough to find a place for it; Greg Dulcich looks like a stud at tight end, and Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton should be a formidable trio at wide receiver.
So what should they do? Find a true receiving threat for the backfield.
Chase Edmonds is on the roster for 2023 and could fit that role, but the Broncos could save $6 million by moving on from him this offseason. If they look for outside help, which they should, Denver could have plenty of options in free agency, including:
- Kareem Hunt
- Boston Scott
- Miles Sanders
- Raheem Mostert
- Giovani Bernard
- Jerick McKinnon
But the Broncos should look for a big swing first.
The Saints are in salary cap hell and need to dig up $57 million this offseason. They were rumored to be interested in trading Alvin Kamara last offseason. Payton’s first call in his hunt for a runner should be asking the Saints about Kamara’s price tag.
The Broncos are also in prime position to give Saquon Barkley a big deal this season, with Javonte Williams’ future in question. He caught 91 balls as a rookie and could step in as the focal point of the Broncos’ offense.
(I wrote about the Javonte Williams injury and why Denver should think about giving an elite running back big money last week.)
Sign Michael Thomas
As noted above, the Broncos are basically set at wide receiver. If they wanted to make a major move—like trading for DeAndre Hopkins for example—they would probably need to move one of their other wide receivers—probably Courtland Sutton—first.
Instead, the Broncos should run it back with the current group but add some veteran insurance to the backend: Michael Thomas.
The 29-year-old is three years removed from his league-leading 1,725-yard season in 2019. He hasn’t hit 500 yards in a season since. But that’s why the Saints are almost guaranteed to cut him this offseason.
If Thomas is healthy, which is unlikely, he could be a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver again. If not, which is much, much more likely, he could add a veteran presence to the Broncos’ wide receiver room and hopefully step in for a game or two when injuries call for an appearance. In theory, he’d take the snaps that Freddie Swain, Brandon Johnson, Jalen Virgil and others played in 2022.
Don’t think of Thomas as a flashy signing. Think of him as a small piece of insurance at a small cost, and a veteran who could help teach the rest of the receiver room their new offense.