ENGLEWOOD | A dearth of 2023 draft picks and an urgent roster overhaul turned the Denver Broncos into the NFL’s biggest spenders in free agency this offseason.
With no draft picks until Round 3, the Broncos signed 14 veterans, including Ben Powers, Mike McGlinchey and Samaje Perine, to contracts that totaled a whopping $242,647,500.
That was only slightly more than the $242,588,236 they gave Russell Wilson, who signed a five-year extension on the eve of Denver’s dreadful 2022 season that led to yet another staff shakeup.
To hire Sean Payton as Nathaniel Hackett’s successor, team owner and CEO Greg Penner had to part with the first-round draft pick the team acquired from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb trade last fall.
They’d already surrendered their own first- and second-round picks this year and last to acquire Wilson from the Seahawks.
So, barring another blockbuster trade, the Broncos won’t be on the clock until early in the third round, when they own back-to-back picks at Nos. 67 and 68.
That wait could last longer if they decide to move back to obtain more than the five picks they now hold.
“I do think the top five (selections) of the third round is kind of the sweet spot of the draft. If we can get a couple really good players who contribute, we’re going to do that,” Payton said but added this: “We’re always looking for picks.”
Payton said his working relationship with GM George Paton, like his collaboration with GM Mickey Loomis for 15 seasons in New Orleans, has been outstanding.
So, who gets final say should they disagree on whom to draft?
Payton said the key to a good working relationship between the head coach and general manager is working out all their differences during the long days leading up to the draft so that there’s no conflict in the heat of the moment.
“Yeah, that decision will have been made,” Paton concurred. “I know that’s a cop-out answer. But that’s all we do all day is discuss these scenarios. Even deep in the draft. We actually have a mock that goes through the seventh round, believe it or not. But that won’t happen.”
Paton again insisted WR Jerry Jeudy isn’t on the trade block. He said Jeudy was “one of the top receivers in the league” late last year. “We like Jerry. He’s going to be here.”
The Broncos are set to sit out the first round for the second straight season after sending four premium picks to Seattle, including the No. 9 pick last year and what turned out to be the fifth overall selection next Thursday night.
As a Bill Parcells protégé, Payton believes in building the roster from the inside out with a focus on the O-line and front seven — which was already evident in Denver’s free agency haul. Fortifying the O-line was job No. 1 after Wilson got sacked a career-high 55 times in 15 games last season.
To be impatient. Payton wasn’t shy in New Orleans about trading future draft picks to move up, a strategy that often paid off for the Saints. But can the Broncos really afford to trade more high picks? The team hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2015. Only the Jets have a longer postseason drought, going back to 2010. That dry spell could end this season if the Jets can ever finalize the Aaron Rodgers deal and reunite him with new OC Hackett, a reunion that failed to materialize for the Broncos last spring.
ELWAY HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
For the first time since 2011 John Elway won’t be working the Broncos draft. His consultant contract expired last month, although Paton said he expects Elway to continue being a resource for him and the head coach. Payton said Elway still has an office near his and is always welcome — especially because he wants a chance to win back all the money he lost to Elway on the golf course over the years.