Sean Payton Details Difficult Process Ahead of Roster Deadline

Sean Payton

Getty Sean Payton on the sideline during a Broncos game.

The Denver Broncos ended the 2023 preseason on a winning note following a blowout win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Several players stood out in the finale ahead of the league-mandated deadline to trim the active roster to 53 players, posing a challenge for head coach Sean Payton.

“The dream for so many of these guys is still alive, even if it’s not here,” Payton said in a press conference on August 26. “The thing that keeps — I don’t want to say us up at night — but [it’s about] making sure we find the right 53. You don’t want to lose a player when you had control over it and then have him have success somewhere else.”

The NFL requires all 32 teams to have their initial 53-man roster completed by Tuesday, August 29. Following that deadline, the Broncos will then put together their 16-player practice squad. Payton views the practice squad as an extension of the team to further develop promising young players.

“I think what’s important when you’re talking about practice squad players is, ‘Are they developmental? Are they guys that you feel like have an upside curve to it?’ Coaches, all of us in general, can be very protective and say this can be a perfect practice squad player,” Payton said. “Well, he’s not if you can’t see an upside to be a 53[-man roster] player. And with the rules the way they are now, there’s so much more flexibility. I know it’s 53 and 16, but I look at it much differently. I look at it as that’s the entire roster.”

Payton clearly has his work cut out for him as he attempts to turn Denver around in his first season at the helm in a loaded conference. The Broncos are coming off a 5-12 campaign in which they finished in the cellar of the AFC West.

Sean Payton Praises Tight End on Roster Bubble

Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam took full advantage of his opportunities against the Rams. The 2020 fourth-rounder out of Missouri led Denver in targets, catches and yards. He also had a jaw-dropping one-handed catch late in the fourth quarter.

Okwuegbunam finished the game with seven receptions for 109 yards and a score. His performance on the field left Payton virtually speechless following the game.

“He had a big night,” Payton said, per the Broncos official team website. “I mean, holy cow.”

Okwuegbunam said postgame interview with 9News Denver that he was “not really surprised” by his big game. The preseason finale was Okwuegbunam’s first 100-yard game in the NFL and he awaits to hear about his future in the Mile High City.

“[I] had a good game tonight,” Okwuegbunam said to the Broncos team website. “Been stringing some good practices together and good weeks. Really, I’ve pretty much done everything I could do, so [I’ll] just go into these next couple days and see what happens.”

Heading into Tuesday, Okwuegbunam is slotted as the fifth tight end on the depth chart, behind Adam Trautman, Greg Dulcich, Chris Manhertz and Nate Adkins.

Sean Payton Reminisces About Randy Gradishar

On Wednesday, August 23, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that its Senior Committee has selected Broncos defensive stalwart Randy Gradishar as one of three senior finalists for the Class of 2024. Gradishar was selected with wide receiver Art Powell and defensive tackle Steve McMichael.

Payton took time out of his August 23 press conference to congratulate the leader of the vaunted “Orange Crush” defense.

“We just had the chance to introduce him to our team and read through his statistics, years played, and never missing a game. It’s pretty remarkable,” Payton said.

Payton also recalled during the same press conference how as a kid he collected 7-Eleven Slurpee cups featuring Gradishar.

“You’d have a stack in your room. Then they were so sticky that your mom would just throw them away someday and wouldn’t tell you. I can remember those defenses very well,” he said.

Gradishar ended his career as the Broncos’ all-time leader in tackles. He is one of just 10 linebackers in NFL history with at least seven Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Of that group, Gradishar is the only player without a bust in Canton.

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