INDIANAPOLIS — Sean Payton believes everything matters as a head coach. It is more than a conviction. It is a way of operation.
So it should come as no surprise that that the new Broncos boss, speaking on an NFL Combine podium for the first time, arrived 10 minutes early for his press conference. He fielded queries for 24 minutes, even telling an NFL employee who told reporters only two more questions, that he would decide when he was done, if that's OK.
There is no mistaking who is in charge when Payton is in the room. Payton discussed a variety of topics with a throng of reporters, including nearly 20 from Denver. Given where he left off at his introductory press conference, the coaching staff dominated the conversation, but Payton also addressed his recent dinner with Russell Wilson last month and changing the Broncos culture, which has produced six straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72.
He started with an explanation as to why he hired Vance Joseph, the Broncos former head coach, as his defensive coordinator after interviewing Rex Ryan, Sean Desai, and Matt Patricia, who could still land on the staff as a senior assistant.
"We felt like we were going to be really patient with that hire and try to dig as much as we could, relative to the fit and finding the right guy. Rex, Matt, Sean Desai and all of those guys were outstanding. In the end, there were a few things that I felt that Vance was going to bring. Not necessarily because he had experience in Denver, but really more what he was able to do— believe it or not —in Arizona," Payton explained.
"That was a tough job for a number of years. We’re excited to have him."
The staff features a blend of graybeards and young kids. Assistant head coach Mike Westoff, who specializes in special teams work, is 75 and began coaching in 1974. Quarterbacks coach Davis Webb and Chris Banjo were both active NFL players last season.
"Mike and I have known each other now — I didn’t know him when I was in New Orleans until we hired him. We brought him in to help with our kicking game and he helped us tremendously. I consider him one of the best coaches that I have been around. I can remember introducing him to our team. If not all of you, but some of you have covered this league long enough that would remember him— if you didn’t, you can’t vote, but if you did, I’ll let you vote —but he would be someone that would be right up there at the top, from a coordinator standpoint. A Hall-of-Fame-type coordinator," Payton said.
"With Chris, I knew that he was still playing at Arizona, but he was at that stage in his career where he was looking forward maybe to getting into coaching. I had called him one night and low and behold, it was something he wanted to do and do pretty quickly. Normally, I would say that it takes two years. There is a transition that it takes for players, where they go their way and then they want to get back in. With Davis, he came highly recommended from a bunch of different coaches. (Giants coach) Brian Daboll, Eli Manning, I spoke to a number of people. I kept hearing the same things about him, so we brought him in."
Working with Wilson remains an intriguing question. There are some in the industry that believe Wilson has this season to prove he can be part of the Broncos' future. He face-planted last season, finishing with a career-low 16 touchdown passes and a battery of forgettable performances. I asked Payton and general manager George Paton about Wilson.
"We had a good dinner. There was a group of people at our table, Joe Montana was at our table. I know Russell was interested in talking about where we're going, and I was interested in learning from Joe Montana. It was a good conversation. We're looking forward to the start of the season, obviously," Payton said. "Certainly, for Russell's standards — and the Bronco standards — it wasn't the type of year that they wanted. And typically, that's why new head coaches arrive. We have a lot of work ahead of us right now. We're just kind of getting started."
Added Paton of Wilson, who continues to receive an avalanche of criticism for last season.
"I think Russ has moved forward. We’ve all moved forward. We’ve talked about last year and it’s been well-documented. It didn’t go our way. It wasn’t all his fault. We’re all to blame. We have to improve. We have to move on. With Sean here, with our new staff, I think we will.”
Payton explained that he has not done a deep dive on the Broncos' roster, more like a "snorkeling" adventure. That two-day meeting process will begin in earnest after the combine. He knows that change is required for a team that has the second longest active playoff drought, topped only by the New York Jets.
"Beyond people, it’s every detail. Every little thing matters almost in an obsessive way. All of those details matter inside the framework of the field. We obsess as coaches and teachers on doing the little things well. That has to exist in every area of your building — in your equipment room, in your training room, in your cafeteria. Pretty soon, the building moves in a direction in concert, and it’s pretty cool when that happens," Payton said.
"It’s not easy. People talk about it, and they search for it like that Holy Grail. I’ve seen it, I’ve been a part of it. It requires a little unselfishness from all of us in knowing that if we’re all moving in this one direction, chances are it’s going to benefit all of us that are moving.”
For the Broncos to rebound, they need to consistently make right decisions this offseason. They face tough choices on in-house free agents Dre'Mont Jones, Alex Singleton and Dalton Risner. Paton has met with Jones' agent. The Broncos want him back, though they are not expected to franchise tag him by the March 7 deadline.
"Very positive (talks). I’ve spoken with his agent, Kyle McCarthy, from Athletes First. I’ve had a number of conversations with Dre’Mont. Dre’Mont is a very good player. He’s one of our core players on defense," Paton said. "They’ve been very positive.”
In talking to source close to Jones on Tuesday evening, the standout defensive end plans to test the market. Daron Payne was tagged by Washington, leaving no reason for Jones to take a deal without hitting the market as the top defensive end, which increases the likelihood the Broncos lose him.
Singleton appears a priority after leading the team with 101 solo tackles last year. There has not been much talk yet about a new deal, but the veteran is considered a winning player with his attitude and effort.
"He’s just a baller. We signed him to be a really good special teamer, compete for the starting job, and didn’t even start. He started the year and then he just took off. He’s just a football player. We’d love to have Alex back," Paton said. "He’s a great leader, has a nose for the ball, players gravitate towards him. We’d like to have Alex back.”
The Broncos began meetings on Monday night and they will continue this week, including interviewing top draft prospects. Addressing the offensive line is critical — something Payton emphasized in New Orleans — for the Broncos to recapture their best glory.
"We need to upgrade at the offensive line. We do expect (left tackle) Garett (Bolles) to be healthy (after suffering fracture in ankle and leg last season. There’s a lot of different ways to acquire any position — free agency, the draft. It just kind of depends on what’s stronger," Paton said. "Is free agency stronger or the draft stronger? Obviously, we need to upgrade on the offensive line.”
Improvements are needed across the board. Remember, everything matters. It's why Paton arrived 10 minutes early to press conference and left nine minutes late.