The Broncos’ “Power P’’ triumvirate – Payton, Penner and Paton – must be very creative, cunning, clever and collaborative.
But Payton rules.
In his new expansive office on the west side of the second floor that overlooks the practice fields at Broncos headquarters and has a grand view of the distant snow-swathed Rockies, Sean Payton, unlike Old Mother Hubbard, didn’t find a bare cupboard.
But the coach’s whiteboards for the draft, the roster, free agency and salary cap space are rather spare.
Payton has joined a frail, feeble franchise with the fellows down the hallway – Greg Penner and George Paton.
The Broncos don’t have any draft choices until back-to-back slots in the third round at 68 and 69 and only four more picks later (108, 140, 194 and 247).
The team possesses just two world-class exceptional stars – Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain II – of the 22 starters at the end of ’22. And finished with 22 players on the injured reserve list, including a dozen who had been starters.
Only Surtain was selected to the Pro Bowl flag football game.
Quarterback Russell Wilson couldn’t beat out Tyler Hundley, who started just two games, as the fourth Pro Bowl alternate.
And the Broncos currently have less than $12 million in salary cap room to spend on unrestricted free agents and resign their own free agents. Meanwhile, 16 members of the Broncos’ 2022 roster have become unrestricted free agents. Dre’Mont Jones, the Broncos’ premier defensive lineman, can go somewhere else if he’s not franchise tagged for $19.7 million. Half the free agents wouldn’t be major losses. The Broncos should try to bring back offensive linemen Dalton Risner, Billy Turner and Calvin Anderson, running back Latavius Murray, defensive end DeShawn Williams, inside linebacker Alex Singleton and safety Kareem Jackson.
Payton may try to grab a couple of free agents from the Saints – defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kaden Elliss.
But the Broncos are able to add $33 mil in payroll space if they dump Graham Glasgow, Ronald Darby, Mike Purcell, Brandon McManus and Jake Martin. Wilson will account for $22 million, Simmons, Courtland Sutton and Garett Bolles approximately $18 mil each and Randy Gregory $16.1. If George Paton could turn back time, he wouldn’t have signed Gregory, who would be $22 million in dead cap money if they released him now.
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The Penner-Payton-Paton Pack has a brutal burden ahead. First, how is this three-headed monster (Cerberus in Greek mythology) to succeed? CEO Penner already announced before the search that the coach would report directly to him, not Paton.
Paton and Payton will have to work out their association and carve out their own responsibilities while Penner commands as chief executive officer. Will there be a power struggle? Will Paton concentrate on player personnel and the draft? Which of the three really will make the important decisions? What is the Penner-Payton-Paton pecking order?
It should be assumed that Payton, who will turn 60 this year, came to the Broncos with the agreement he will have dominance over all matters of Broncos football. The Broncos’ hierarchy in all likelihood will return to the strong owner-coach system of Pat Bowlen with Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. From 1995-2008, Shanahan was head coach, then also executive vice president of football. John Beake, GM from 1984-1998, was succeeded by Neal Dahlen for two years, then Ted Sundquist from 2002-2008. The late Mr. B. had the final call on every financial and league issue. But Shanahan was the franchise’s most influential force in the draft, free agency, trades, rosters and player personnel until the “coach for life’’ (Bowlen’s phrase) was fired. The general manager did his bidding.
Eventually, when Bowlen’s Alzheimer’s affected his life and leadership, Joe Ellis took over the franchise. But John Elway, in 2011, became general manager, then president of football operations. Elway hired John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio, who all served strictly as head coaches and took comprehensive orders from The Duke of Denver.
The Broncos’ new triangle won’t be equilateral.
Penner and Paton also have large upstairs offices, but Payton - in practices, in games, in Dove Valley and in essence – will be the Broncos’ main man.
And chairman of all the boards on the walls.