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Former Bucs GM Mark Dominik believes Wilson will 'buy into' Payton's coaching

Draft could focus on defense with Broncos' third-round picks
Mark Dominik
Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 18, 2023

DENVER — Eleven months ago, Broncos Country wore its passion for Russell Wilson like a thorny crown. Hard to blame them. After a carousel of incompetence since Peyton Manning's retirement, including 11 different quarterbacks, Wilson offered a return to relevance. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring on a Hall of Fame track.

He met the media and talked about playing for another decade, at least, and winning multiple championships. Two months into last season, fans wondered if he would win another game. Wilson spiraled into an abyss, logging a 4-11 record, sustaining injuries to his throwing labrum, hamstring and head (concussion), while posting career-worsts in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5).

Enter coach Sean Payton. Spray the Febreze. And hope the odorous days are over.

Former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik believes Payton can execute a U-turn for Wilson.

"I think the reason you hired Sean is to get Russell back to what you think he can be. Russell has to buy into the same thing, and I think he will. It was humbling for everybody with the Denver Broncos last year, throughout the entire organization based off what the expectations were. And I had the same expectations. So yes, I think Sean can help (Russell bounce back). That’s why they got him there," Dominik told Denver7 during a Tuesday conference call in his role as a SiriusXM NFL radio draft analyst.

"When you look at their overall football team, they really tried to address the offensive line in free agency to get comfortable. It looks like they are trying to surround him with all the talent they can."

That last sentence was telling. The Broncos spent several weeks listening to teams calling about receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Jeudy finished as the team's No. 1 receiver, netting 583 yards, 43 catches and four touchdowns over his final eight games. Sutton provides size and can create mismatches, but only has two scores over his last 26 games. Denver never received an offer worth a trade — they wanted a first-rounder for Jeudy and a second-rounder for Sutton, according to multiple reports and sources — and it appears likely both are staying, though a tempting bid could happen during the draft.

"I think they need to keep them. I would keep them. They need to know what Russell Wilson is. I don’t need the extra pick, and I don’t think people are going to be lined up to give you high value for what you would really want in return," said Dominik, who worked in NFL front offices for 20 seasons, including 19 in Tampa Bay.

"I think they are hoping, 'Can we just get everyone healthy? Can we get K.J. Hamler (torn pectoral this offseason) healthy, Tim Patrick (missed last season with a torn ACL) healthy?' Can we get all these dudes healthy for once and go see what we actually have in this wide receiver room instead of trading some of it away and hoping to flip it out for something different? I just don’t think they will find a taker for that."

If Wilson, who turns 35 in November, can rebound, the Broncos' chances of ending their seven-year playoff absence increase dramatically. But nobody thinks Denver is a finished product. The Broncos could add players this summer or in training camp as cuts occur around the league. And then, there's the draft, which begins next Thursday and runs through Saturday.

Denver does not pick until 67th and 68th overall in the third round. There should be impact players available. Dominik believes the focus should be on defense, where the team has needs on the line and at edge rusher.

"I think in the draft everything is going to be on that side of the ball. You are talking their early picks (67 and 68), that’s where you are going to see it. Losing Dre’Mont Jones, whether they wanted to keep him in the end or not I can’t answer that, but I do think that was a piece of the puzzle that was very painful to let walk out the door. Just because of how powerful he is and consistently solid he is. I think you are going to look in that area of the football field and say can we find another defensive end, a nose tackle, somebody that drops in the draft," Dominik said.

"I think that’s where you are going to see the Broncos get something there. And could they go back in the secondary? I think they could. I think you will see more defensive picks. Coach Payton is the offensive guy, but I think they did a lot in free agency on offense and are going to do more with the defense in the draft."