New Denver Broncos head coach spoke to reporters on Monday for the first time since the NFL Combine. It was the first time he’d held court with media since free agency opened and the Broncos spent more money than any other NFL team.
Payton credited the Walton-Penner Ownership Group for its willingness to spend on the roster.
“The most important thing for me was finding an ownership group that is committed to winning and having a first-class organization,” Payton said. “I know I found it.”
The first big names the Broncos took off the board were right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Ben Powers. McGlinchey earned an $87.5 million contract over five years that included more than $50 million in guaranteed money. Powers signed a four-year, $51.5 million contract with $27 million guaranteed.
“You look at all the tape, then you look at the makeup and the intelligence,” Payton said of his two new linemen. “We felt like they were really good fits for what we want to do. There was a consistency that you saw, that you felt like you were getting each week. Health, makeup—all of that gets factored in.”
The Broncos’ other big-money addition came in the form of 25-year-old defensive lineman Zach Allen, who came over from Arizona. He’d worked under new Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph for four seasons. Allen
“[We liked his] effort, energy and we loved how he improved in this past season,” Payton said. “Obviously, Vance has been with them. When you’re in free agency and you have a little bit more intimate knowledge with a player, it’s really important.”
Heading into free agency, the Broncos’ backfield was filled with question marks. Starting running back Javonte Williams is on an unknown timeline to return from a serious knee injury, and the Broncos don’t have any other experienced backs on the roster. Denver patched the backfield with Semaje Perine, 27, who previously played as the Bengals’ third-down back.
“I see position flex,” Payton said. “If you really watch Perine and study the tape, you see him on early downs, and you see him playing third down. He’s a really good receiver. Obviously, he could block the blitz. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s smart, he’s tough. He’s built to last. That was an important piece for us knowing the injury that we’re dealing with. He was really important.”
The Broncos may add another back to the room before the season, especially if Williams isn’t ready to go, but Payton wasn’t willing to expand on his feelings about Latavius Murray, who started seven games for the Broncos last season and is a free agent.
The final notable signing from outside of Denver was quarterback Jarrett Stidham, 26, a former fourth-round pick of the Patriots who started the first two games of his career this season in Las Vegas.
“I think he’s young, but I think he’s someone that we had a good grade on coming out,” Payton said. “I think he played well in the two starts he had this year. If you study closely the San Francisco game, he’s smart at the line of scrimmage. There were a couple of directions really with that position and there were a handful of No. 2’s that either I have worked with, or we felt comfortable with. In this case, I think he’s a No. 2 whose arrow is moving in a direction where we feel like he can become an NFL starter in our league. The evaluation was pretty crystal clear for all of us. I think he’s someone that’s going to be great in the room. He’s smart. Quietly, that was an important sign for us.”
The Broncos also brought back one of their own free agents, linebacker Alex Singleton, on a three-year $18 million deal.
“He was productive. I thought there was a lot of things we did well defensively,” Payton said. “Those two inside guys played well, and they were available. The defense in a lot of ways played well considering the time of possession, considering the field position, considering—like it’s hard to play good defense if you’re not playing complimentary football. It sounds like I’m being critical of the special teams and the offense—and I am.”