DENVER — Hitch a ride on the Sean Payton Express, a locomotive in Englewood that is chugging down the tracks on a crusade to return the Broncos to relevancy.
When the Broncos hired Payton on Jan. 31, signing him to a five-year deal, no one was sure what the next few months would look like. It has become clear over the past two weeks that all that matters to Payton is winning.
He left his one-year retirement to engage in a makeover worthy of "The Property Brothers." Payton and general manager George Paton have added 15 players, including 12 from outside the organization. CEO Greg Penner, who apologized to Broncos Country in December for the embarrassing season, guaranteed more than $138 million in contract.
In an attempt to change the culture, something Payton believes can happen in a first season, the new coach has added five offensive players who were on his Saints teams: tight end Chris Manhertz, receiver Marquez Callaway, receiver Lil' Jordan Humphrey, running back Tony Jones and fullback Michael Burton.
The Broncos arrive at the owners meetings on Sunday with multiple needs addressed, but questions looming. I look forward to asking Payton what he thinks of his roster, what Paton sees as needs in the draft and whether Penner is comfortable spending like this every year in free agency or if this was an exception to shove the franchise back on track.
Let's take a look at some issues:
Offensive line additions
Payton and Paton identified the offensive line as a top priority this offseason. The Broncos added right tackle Mike McGlinchey (five-year, $87.5 million, $52.5 million guaranteed), left guard Ben Powers (four-year, $51.5 million, $28.5 million guaranteed) and Kyle Fuller, who has started 12 games at center, including nine in 2021 in Seattle as a teammate of Russell Wilson. The onus is on McGlinchey to pull the emergency brake on the merry-go-round, where he will be the eighth different starting right tackle in eight consecutive opening days. Fuller will push Lloyd Cushenberry, and there will likely be competition added in the draft.
Is there room for Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton?
What was once an anomaly has become a pattern. Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton have not been productive when on the field together. Jeudy has drawn the most interest in trade talks because of his forgiving contract and upside. He will make $4.9 million this season with a $12.9 million fifth-year option that the Broncos or new team must pick up by May 1. Jeudy is also coming off his best season, catching 67 passes for 972 yards and six touchdowns. Over his final six games, he posted 37 receptions for 523 yards and three scores. It's why the Patriots, Ravens, and Giants could make a play for Jeudy closer to or during the draft next month. By comparison, Sutton has two touchdowns over his past 26 games and is due $18.2 million this season, limiting interest from suitors unless the Broncos decide to absorb a healthy chunk of his contract.
Does the defensive line need help?
With the money similar, the Broncos made the decision to sign Zach Allen rather than make a stronger bid to bring back Dre'Mont Jones. Jones is a better pass rusher. But Allen is a decent rusher and more stout against the run. But Denver needs more than the current group of Allen, D.J. Jones, Mike Purcell, Eyioma Uwazurike, Matt Henningsen, and Jonathan Harris. This is an area that requires attention in the draft.
Needing a sharper edge
While Bradley Chubb didn't reach expectations in Denver because of knee and ankle injuries, there's no denying how much he was missed when traded. The Broncos' pass rush suffered without him. Randy Gregory's health remains paramount. Can he add weight to play his more desired physical manner, while staying on the field? He is disruptive when available, but has missed more games than he has played in his career. Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto offer promising potential. Jonathon Cooper and Jacob Martin and possibly Chris Allen provide depth. This is a position where Denver could add, preferably someone who can set the edge consistently in the run game.
Wilson on the rebound?
If Russell Wilson wants flowers, he might have to listen to Miley Cyrus' hit single on loop. Payton isn't offering them. It's not his style. But he has helped Wilson by bulking up the offensive line, which should keep pass rushers out of his lap and allow for better timing. Wilson recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, deemed a clean-up for pain the last two years. Wilson has always been durable until last season when he injured his shoulder labrum and hamstring and suffered a concussion. Talking to people who know Wilson, they believe he is motivated to rebound. Can he with Payton? The feeling remains that this year will be telling regarding Wilson's future.