Broncos: Super Bowl Champion Confirms Sean Payton’s Draft Day Claims

Sean Payton, Denver Broncos

Getty Head coach Sean Payton of the Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton has long regretted missing out on quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft. Payton even referenced that moment in explaining the Broncos’ decision to select Bo Nix with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

How serious was the then-New Orleans Saints head coach about making the move?

Enough to tell his franchise passer, Drew Brees, that they were considering doing do mere hours before the draft began.

“Look, I know that Sean Payton wanted to draft Patrick Mahomes back in 2017,” Brees said, per Fox Sports’ Scott Thompson on May 17. “Had Mahomes been there at pick No. 11, we probably would’ve taken him.”

The Broncos sat in the 11th spot, primed to take Mahomes had he slipped to them.

Instead, the Chiefs swung a trade with the Buffalo Bills. They went from No. 27 to No. 10, taking Mahomes from under Payton’s nose.

Former NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick agreed that the move was the “best draft-day trade ever” on “NFL Live” just two years later. Payton has said he told Brees – with whom he won a Super Bowl – of his intentions.

Sean Payton’s Draft Miss Led Broncos to Bo Nix

Sean Payton, Bo Nix, Denver Broncos

GettyHead Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Bo Nix #10 of the Denver Broncos.

The Saints selected cornerback Marshon Lattimore instead, which was fine with Brees. But missing out on Mahomes stuck in the head coach’s craw.

“Oftentimes you hear this, ‘Well, if they don’t get one here, they can go back and get this one,’” Payton told reporters on April 26, explaining the Nix pick. “I heard those same comments when the Chiefs selected Patrick and you go back and tune in to everything that was said. ‘Well, they could have got him later.’ And no, they couldn’t have.”

The Broncos did not have to trade up for Nix. But Payton boasted about intentionally sending out false signals about the Broncos’ interest in a trade up for a quarterback in the draft. He outright called the idea “realistic” in March at the Annual Meeting in Orlando.

Payton did check about moving into the top 10, per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer on April 29.

In the end, the Broncos got their guy in Nix, who has drawn comparisons to Brees. But their efforts to revamp the quarterback position began long before the draft.

With Russell Wilson cut, and only Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci on the roster, Broncos general manager George Paton explored other options. He ultimately traded for Zach Wilson, but that was not even the first veteran option he checked on.

They were interested in Sam Howell but balked at the Washington Commanders’ asking price. Washington traded Howell to the Seattle Seahawks in a deal including pick swaps.

And Paton had even loftier targets.

Broncos’ Rumored Target Addresses Free Agency Regret

Michael Penix Jr., Kirk Cousins, Denver Broncos

GettyQuarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. #9 and Kirk Cousins #18 of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brees re-told that draft-day story in response to a question about Kirk Cousins, who agreed to a four-year, $180 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. But the Falcons surprised Cousins – and the Broncos – selecting Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 overall pick.

Part of the reason Cousins left the Minnesota Vikings was because of their plans to draft a quarterback.

Paton checked with Cousins’ camp early in free agency, waiting for the price tag to drop.

It’s fair to wonder if Cousins would have returned to Minnesota or even listened to Denver’s pitch had he known Atlanta’s plans. But Cousins smoothed things over with Penix and addressed any guilt he may have.

“I don’t really deal in hypotheticals,” Cousins told reporters on May 14. “We could go down that path for a long time in a lot of ways, and it just doesn’t do us any good.”

The Broncos are only focused on making sure Nix is the best version of himself at this point too.