Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton (center) with general manager George Paton and ownership group Carrie Walton Penner, Condoleezza Rice and Greg Penner during an introductory press conference at team headquarters in Englewood, Colo. on Monday, February 6, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Denver Post Broncos writer Parker Gabriel posts his Broncos mail weekly during the season. Send his questions to Parker here.
Is Sean Payton the QB whisperer or will he bring a quality backup in case Captain Cringe’s resurrection is a lost cause?
—Gabriel Benson, Waterloo, Iowa
Gabriel, good name. There is no question that the Broncos are betting on Russell Wilson. That’s the way it is. Payton is confident that Wilson can play better than he did in 2022. And so are the guys who have played for Payton in the past. But it will be interesting to see how Payton and GM George Paton tackle the No. 2 spot. Brett Rypien is a restricted free agent, so he could either return or the Broncos could see what else is out there.
However, it looks like there will be more equipment on the market for a quarterback than there are quality options. Strange things happen, but right now doesn’t seem like a great year to look for quality backup at a reasonable price. But maybe a guy who doesn’t have a line in a headline gig wants to play for Payton. Another option: Denver rolls with Wilson and Rypien and looks to draft a quarterback in the mid or late rounds. Then you let Ryp and a newbie compete for the backup job.
Okay, we’ve got our guy in Sean Payton. Now the question is how far can he take the Broncos? No two seasons are the same, but looking back on last year, we lost nine games by seven points or less! With all the bad decisions by coaches, I have to believe Payton is 5-4 in those games. Not to mention, the offense went from 14 points per game to 22 when Nathaniel Hackett stopped calling plays. Sound good to you?
—Brandon Brown, Rogers, Minn.
Brandon, thanks for writing. I’d be interested to see what happens if you play those nine games again. Is it possible 5-4? Sure, but that’s probably not all attributable to Payton vs. Hackett. What are the odds that both Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon will fumble on the goal line again like they did in Week 1 in Seattle? Remember that? It feels like a long time ago.
But yeah, Denver expects a big bump just by having Payton in the driver’s seat. What’s interesting is that after the first couple of weeks, Hackett’s decision making (use of timeout, fourth down options, etc.) actually went well. But he just couldn’t help the Broncos find a way to get out of the rut in close games. Payton’s combination of experience and confidence can’t hurt. Will he pay immediately? We’ll see. It would help if Denver stayed healthier this year. If Payton is 5-4 in those nine games, what would the Broncos’ record have been in them if Javonte Williams had stayed healthy all season?
Okay, Parker, Ejiro Evero is gone. Who is going to be in charge of the defense now?
Good question, Mike, and one that Payton is actively working on. Right now, Seattle’s Sean Desai appears to be in fine form. On Sunday Evero took Carolina’s job. On Monday, Brian Flores reportedly took over as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator job. So Desai is the only confirmed interview in the books. Where else could Payton look? I mentioned Mike Zimmer as a possibility (it’s a hunch and I’m not reporting at this time) and Payton interestingly brought him up, as well as one of the links between him and GM George Paton. Maybe go a little further into his own network. He could try to talk Steve Wilks into an interview after Wilks met with San Francisco earlier this week. Maybe you have an idea about the staff in Philadelphia or Kansas City.
It’s an interesting early call for Payton though. He liked Ryan Nielsen, who left New Orleans for Atlanta before landing the Broncos job. He liked Vic Fangio, but Fangio had a lot of options and returning to Denver was not in the cards. He liked Ejiro Evero, but Evero wanted a fresh start. Now Flores is also heading to Minnesota.
So we don’t have first- or second-round picks in this year’s draft. We’re just picking up a bunch of linemen, right?
— Victor, Arvada
Victor, an all O-lineman draft. Let’s do it.
In reality, the summary of what Denver could use in the draft is much longer than the number of picks they currently have. You can make an easy case for multiple offensive linemen and one for every other position in offense, edge help, frontline and secondary fortifications. The next few weeks and then free agency will alter that list a bit. The bet here is that they will be active before the draft and also during the draft.
What, if any, amount of money did the Walton/Penner group give to the Saints’ owners in exchange for accepting a 2024 second-round pick instead of the 2024 first-round pick Loomis had required to complete? trade for Sean Payton?
—Daryl Short, San Antonio, Texas
There was no money involved in the deal that we know of or that has been reported by anyone.
Basically, New Orleans had to determine: if not Denver, then who? And if Payton hadn’t had any other jobs (or if no one else had the Broncos’ level of interest in him), then he probably would have returned to FOX for another year. He would still need a trade next offseason, but the price may have dropped a bit as he neared contractual freedom.
So the deal ends up as the No. 29 pick this year and a pick trade next year. Depending on where Denver and New Orleans end up, respectively, in the 2024 draft, that’s basically the combined value of a pick in the 20s and 20s. A doable price for Denver, but also a win for New Orleans. The Saints earned the first first-round pick this year traded for a coach since 2002.
Why would the Jets or any other team want to hire Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator after it was widely recognized that he was in the lead with the Broncos and even hired Jerry Rosburg to help Hackett with that effort?
—Jane E. Buck, Denver
Hi Jane, thanks for the question. Simply put, the addition of Rosburg was to help with game management, not call offensive plays.
But Hackett relinquished play-calling duties in Week 11 to Klint Kubiak and then, ultimately, Rosburg handed it over to Justin Outten.
What’s interesting about signing Hackett to the Jets is that he also didn’t call plays in Green Bay. Head coach Matt LaFleur did it. So the last time Hackett called plays for an entire season was in 2018 at Jacksonville. Just because it didn’t work out for him in Denver as head coach doesn’t mean he’s destined to be a bad coordinator in New York. It will be interesting to see who will play quarterback for the Jets when the season is over.
Also, if running back Breece Hall is back healthy after a torn ACL suffered in Denver in Week 7, Hackett should give him the ball. A lot.
More comment than question:
Much of the Broncos’ lack of success in recent years has been blamed on whoever was the head coach of the day, and indeed, some of the Broncos’ coaching choices have been painful indeed. But those choices themselves are symptoms of a much more serious and pervasive malady: the lack of stability and direction from the Broncos’ top corporate executives and, more importantly, the owners. But the steady hand of Pat Bowlen gave way to a board of directors and the Bowlen family’s bitter fight for control of the team. It also eventually led to an infighting between team president Joe Ellis and general manager and vice president of football operations John Elway. With corporate ownership and control of the team constantly in flux, the Broncos began to lose control. Fortunately, the downward slide was halted for a few years with the hiring of John Fox and the acquisition of Peyton Manning. But after Super Bowl 50, any sense of stability was thrown away. Ellis and Elway’s conflict escalated, with Ellis getting the upper hand, as trustee; and the Bowlen family sued and countersued each other for control, then decided they would all profit by doing the one thing Pat Bowlen was desperately trying to avoid by selling the team.
The promise now is that with the new ownership, the Walton-Penner Group can provide the steady hand needed to stabilize the team. Whether or not they will succeed is an open question. They took a big step in that direction by hiring Sean Payton as head coach. Ellis and Elway are gone. George Paton is still here, for now. If Payton and Paton can stay in their own lanes, the Broncos may have a decent chance of getting competitive again with or without Russell Wilson.
—Dan Murphy, Kansas City, Missouri
What can I add to that? Wait, who’s supposed to ask the questions here?
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