Broncos ‘Trending Toward Contention’ With Sean Payton

Sean Payton

Getty Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton.

All is not lost for the Denver Broncos. In fact, a turnaround could be right around the corner. It just might require some patience.

The Broncos were listed under a group of AFC teams labeled “trending toward contention” by The Athletic’s Randy Mueller on June 13 after they went 8-9 and finished second in the AFC West in head coach Sean Payton’s first season in 2023.

Mueller sorted out six teams from the AFC who were just outside of the established contenders led by the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs but seem to be doing things to point their arrow up.

“I think the defense made significant strides to improve by the end of 2023,” Mueller wrote. “Sometimes, minimizing change makes you better in the wake of chaos like this team has faced over the past two years. Because of that, I could see this team improving by a game or two in 2024.”

Payton’s First Season Defined by QB Controversy

Payton’s first season was defined by his rocky relationship with quarterback Russell Wilson. The Broncos signed Wilson to a 5-year, $245 million contract extension just one year before they traded a first-round pick and second-round pick to the New Orleans Saints to get the rights to Payton.

To put it mildly, things got messy, and Payton ultimately ended up benching then releasing Wilson and taking an astronomical dead money hit of $85 million over 2024 and 2025.

Now, there are three Payton-approved quarterbacks on the roster with rookie Bo Nix, Zach Wilson and Jarrett Stidham, who started the last two games of 2023 in place of Russell Wilson.

“The Broncos went 8-9 in 2023, and it felt like they might have been further from where the head coach wanted them to be than any other team in the league. Sean Payton had a QB he clearly did not want, a defense that gave up 70 points in a single game and a front-office relationship that appeared awkward as an arranged marriage,” Mueller wrote. “… Denver’s quarterbacks have all now been hand-chosen by the QB whisperer. Rookie Bo Nix could be the Week 1 starter, but Payton has made it clear that the job is up for grabs among Nix, the newly acquired Zach Wilson and holdover Jarrett Stidham.”

Broncos Need Receivers, Running Backs to Deliver

It cant’ all be on the quarterbacks. No Denver running back or wide receiver has had 1,000 rushing or receiving yards in a single season since 2019.

The Broncos are currently in a contract dispute with their best wide receiver, Courtland Sutton, that threatens to extend into training camp. There’s a group of unproven running backs led by Javonte Williams who will have to essentially approach the season with a “by committee” approach.

The receiving corps gets some help from free agent Josh Reynolds on a bargain-bin, 2-year, $9 million deal after he was a key player for the Detroit Lions in 2023.

“I really like the addition of Josh Reynolds, especially for just $9 million over two years,” Mueller wrote. “If (and I know it’s a big if) fellow receiver Tim Patrick can leave behind his snakebitten injury history, this offense will be better than it was a year ago.”

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