SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sean Payton did not stumble into 152 victories. He did not win a Super Bowl because of some weird alignment of stars. Payton is considered an elite coach, and with another Vince Lombardi trophy, he would create a compelling case to finish his career in Canton.
He knows what success looks like. And that was not the Broncos offense last year, which ranked last in points scored.
"I watched with everyone of you the season that took place a year ago. I said this earlier, there's probably a little bit of dirt on a lot of people's hands when you win five games," Payton said Monday at the Arizona Biltmore at the AFC coaches breakfast. "It wasn't good. It wasn't good on offense, that's for sure. It was hard film to watch."
In roughly two months on the job, Payton has left his imprint on the organization. And that will continue. He indicated that the Broncos starters "will absolutely" play in the preseason as the training camp will serve as a juxtaposition to last season's rest-and-regenerate approach.
Working alongside general manager George Paton with a windfall of approved spending by CEO Greg Penner, the Broncos have added 15 players, including 12 from outside the organization. The aim is to get better, but in the process, these new faces — many of whom were in the playoffs last season — should help change the culture of a franchise that has missed the playoffs seven straight years.
"You're looking at (running back Samaje) Perine or you are looking at (defensive end) Zach (Allen) or you are looking at (right tackle Mike) McGlinchey or (guard Ben) Powers. They are smart, tough guys that we feel like are good football players. We will continue to fill out the roster, right now," Payton said. "When we're talking about a player, do we have the right vision for what we see this player being?”
Added general manager George Paton, “It’s always part of it, the whole makeup. I think all the guys we brought in have great make up."
Payton brings a philosophy that he knows works. He demands accountability from the last player on the roster to a much-maligned star quarterback.
Payton praised Russell Wilson on Monday. He doesn't see him as a quarterback who is washed — the national view of the nine-time Pro Bowler after his cascade of failures last season — but one who needs to find the right fit. Payton has a history of doing that even beyond future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.
"(Wilson) is super competitive. He’s won at a high level. He’s someone that I think moves well. He’s someone that I think works extremely hard," Payton said. "It’s hard to find guys with all those traits."
For Wilson to rebound, he needs help. That is what has made the trade speculation surrounding receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, specifically Jeudy, so fascinating. The Broncos need draft capital, but can they afford to part with one of their targets? That's not the plan. But nothing is scribbled in stone.
"We are excited to have them on our football team. Two young players in their prime. I think Sean said it best, we are not interested in trading them. When you are in my position, you get a lot of calls. We've gotten calls on those players. We anticipate them being there," Paton said. "The offense was broke last year. To see these receivers with Tim Patrick, we are excited."
Payton admitted that the Broncos will continue to have suitors reach out about the receivers — the Broncos have asked for a first-round pick for Jeudy — because "this is not a deep draft class."
Looking at the moves through a wider lens, Payton is creating a physical team capable of running the ball.
"I am in favor of it," said Payton when asked about having a strong ground game.
Which raises the question: Where does it stand with Javonte Williams? He underwent surgery in October to repair a torn ACL and other damage. It makes the addition of Samaje Perine even more significant.
"Javonte is making great strides, but we won't know for a while (when he will be ready)," Paton said. "Samaje can be a starter. He's good on all three downs. He has really good hands. He's solid in protection. And with Latavius (Murray), we like him. We will just see where that goes."
For the first time Monday, Payton discussed the addition of backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Most figured he would stay in Las Vegas after his decent cameo as a starter. Stidham chose to follow Payton to Denver on a two-year deal.
"I think there’s upside in this player. So here we are. We have a young player. I think there’s certain players we saw in free agency — can they come in and play and start? Yes. I think you get that with Jarrett, but I also think you get a player who is still ascending," Payton said. "If you watch the 49ers game — have you seen that game? That’s impressive against a good defense. He was a priority for us — quietly. Fortunately, it worked out where we were able to get him.”
Throughout his presser, Payton mentioned the importance of playing complementary football. The Broncos, on brand, stunk on special teams last season. The Broncos added a new punter in Riley Dixon, and several players with strong special teams experience like Tremon Smith and Mike Burton. Payton praised the defense, saying they were put in a tough position.
"If it sounds like I’m being critical of the special teams and the offense, I am," Payton said.
Speaking of the defense, the Broncos fortified it by bringing back linebacker Alex Singleton and defensive end Zach Allen. Singleton led Denver in tackles last season, and Allen is considered a versatile player upfront, signed as Dre'Mont Jones defected to Seattle.
"There was interest early in the season. I guess during the year, there was an offer made (to Jones). In the end, it's pretty difficult. It's a week before prom and you're trying to figure out if Sally Sue is going to go with you. If not, you have to have — and so this goes back and forth. I'm happy that Dre’Mont found a great spot. We felt like we found one — obviously, one of the musts was Dre’Mont and/or that position, and we didn't feel like it was deep,” Payton said.
"We liked Zach's effort, his energy and we loved how he improved in this past season. Obviously, (defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph) 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.”
Payton indicated that he sees fourth-year center Lloyd Cushenberry as the starter. Denver brought in competition last week with the addition of veteran Kyle Fuller.
Payton on when he knew he was ready to return to coaching, "I probably knew I was ready to come back in the middle of the season. I think it was, ‘All right that’s enough of this quiet time.’ We’re kind of conditioned with itineraries and schedules. When all of that stops, there's a little bit of a void. I played plenty of golf. I knew I wanted to come back this season.”