Rob Walton

AFC West Rumors: Ross, Broncos, Williams

While Chiefs wide receiver Justyn Ross is dealing with some pretty serious issues off the field, his inability to get onto the field before then never made much sense to people. Yet, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, it was his problems on the field that kept him from making more of an impact.

After an incredibly productive freshman and sophomore year at Clemson, injuries and a bit of a downgrade at quarterback would keep Ross from reaching those heights again for the remainder of his college career. Even after those late struggles kept him from being drafted, many believed that a transition to the NFL, coupled with the opportunity to work in an offense with Patrick Mahomes, would result in a return to greatness for the former top-100 recruit.

Ross would spend his rookie year on injured reserve following offseason foot surgery but would finally enter the 2023 season ready to make his NFL debut. Instead, what we’ve seen is a role receiver who plays mostly on special teams while occasionally rotating in on offense.

Breer’s report claims that there are legitimate football issues keeping him off the field. While Ross is a big body at receiver, he’s not very versatile, struggling to create separation with speed or route-running. In an offense that requires its weapons to contribute in several different ways, it becomes less surprising that Ross is only able to find the field in certain situations.

Here are a few other rumors coming out of the AFC West, starting with an update on one of the Chargers‘ top missing weapons:

  • Los Angeles has been tasked with running an effective offense without wide receiver Mike Williams following the veteran receiver’s season-ending ACL tear. While his status for this year is obviously not going to change, Williams underwent a successful surgery yesterday, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. This may not provide much solace to fans in 2023, but undergoing surgery at this point sets the expectation that Williams will be fully ready by training camp next year.
  • The Broncos made an alteration to their ownership shares earlier this month, according to Mike Klis of 9NEWS. With the team’s chief executive officer Greg Penner has been handling day-to-day operations since the Walton-Penner group purchased the organization, the Broncos’ controlling owner Rob Walton transferred a block of his shares to Penner, allowing Penner to take the mantle of controlling owner in addition to CEO. Penner’s four children will also receive an allotment of Walton’s shares in the exchange.
  • Denver cornerback K’Waun Williams suffered a setback from a preseason foot surgery that was reported this week to likely be season-ending. The setback required further surgery, which Williams underwent this past Monday, per Chris Tomasson of the Denver Gazette. The procedure on Williams’ left ankle reportedly went “very well” and will require a recovery period of approximately 12 weeks, allowing him to return in time for spring football practice.

Sean Payton Addresses Decision To Accept Broncos’ Offer

Four teams pursued Sean Payton this year, and the former Super Bowl-winning HC would have been a coveted option next year. Rather than stay at FOX and wait out potential openings of jobs he was previously connected to, Payton decided to become the Broncos’ next head coach.

Addressing the decision to relocate to Denver — in a transaction that probably doubles as the highest-profile coaching hire in Broncos history — Payton broached a few topics. Among them, the team’s new owners.

I tried to put ownership at the top from the beginning, and I was impressed with how much they want to be successful,” Payton said, during an interview with’s Jeff Duncan, of the Broncos’ Walton-Penner ownership group. “We had great support in New Orleans. I can’t recall Mr. or Mrs. B [Tom and Gayle Benson] ever saying no to something. … This was the opportunity I was looking for.”

Payton, 59, also interviewed with the Cardinals, Panthers and Texans. He made the Broncos his first meeting, and Duncan adds the former Saints coach spoke with Rob and Carrie Walton Penner via Zoom this past weekend. Rob Walton was not part of the Broncos’ contingent to initially meet with Payton in Los Angeles more than two weeks ago. Denver’s ownership did not announce interviews this year and made a surprise trip to Ann Arbor to meet with Jim Harbaugh, who had previously announced he was staying at Michigan. The winding HC search still led back to Payton, who was believed to be the franchise’s top choice throughout.

Waiting out the prospect of the Cowboys or Chargers’ jobs becoming available next year would have included opportunities to coach Dak Prescott or Justin Herbert. Not long ago, Russell Wilson would have resided as an asset for coaching candidates. Thanks to a stunningly woeful season that came shortly after the Broncos’ new ownership group authorized a five-year, $245MM extension, Wilson can be viewed as a liability. Reports had indicated Payton was onboard with coaching the former Seahawks great, however, and his Tuesday decision will greenlight this pairing as one of the more interesting in recent memory.

Russell is a hard worker and has played at a high level and won a lot of games in this league,” Payton said. “The pressure is on us to put a good run game together and reduce the degree of difficulty on his position. I’m excited about him.”

Wilson, 34, reached out to Payton about coming to Denver and will have one of this era’s top play-callers overseeing his bounce-back opportunity. The Saints were on Wilson’s initial 2021 trade-destination list; he added the Broncos later that year. The Broncos traded an eight-asset package for Wilson, including two first-round picks and two seconds, to land the nine-time Pro Bowler in March 2022. The early returns were alarming, but Wilson going from an overmatched Nathaniel Hackett to Payton should represent a strong spot to re-emerge as an upper-echelon starter. If Wilson cannot resemble his Seattle form this season, the Broncos will need to look at other options. Of course, Wilson’s contract will make such a move more difficult — even by 2024.

The Wilson situation heightens the importance of the Broncos’ Payton hire. Payton unleashed Drew Brees in New Orleans. The former Charger morphed from a player the team obtained Philip Rivers to replace into one that totaled a record-shattering five 5,000-yard passing seasons. Payton guided the Saints to seven NFC South titles and nine playoff wins. The team ranked in the top 10 offensively 11 times during Payton’s 15 years on the sideline; it also did so during Payton’s 2012 Bountygate ban. After the Broncos gave Wilson considerable autonomy to co-design an offense last year, Payton should be expected to hold the reins tightly.

Mickey Loomis and Broncos GM George Paton spent the past three days hammering out a compensation package for Payton, Duncan adds. Payton has been rumored to wanting to bring some personnel people with him to Denver, which could certainly cause a conflict with the Paton-led front office. The high-profile coach should have the opportunity to structure things as he sees fit, given his pedigree and the leverage he possessed. For now, however, Paton remains in place.

Both Payton and Paton — that will make for some confusing conversations as long as this partnership lasts — will report to Broncos CEO Greg Penner. That marks a change from 2021 and ’22, but the Walton-Penner group only arrived in Denver late last summer. Payton and Paton also spoke privately often ahead of this hire, Albert Breer of tweets.

George and Mickey were great,” Payton said. “It took a minute, but they worked through it hard and got a deal done. … It works out great in Denver because we’re in the AFC.”

The Saints were believed to have asked for two first-round picks from teams for Payton, and while the price undoubtedly would have been higher had the Panthers made the hire, the Broncos collected a 2024 third-rounder in the deal. Still, Denver will go into this draft without first- or second-round picks and will not have a 2024 second-rounder. That will make matters difficult for the Payton-Paton tandem, but this will be the power structure in place in charge of helping the Broncos crawl out of their biggest slump in 50 years.

DeMeco Ryans Advancing In Broncos’ Search; Sean Payton Souring On Team’s Ownership?

7:35pm: Payton has provided information straight from the source, disputing that there is any truth to Maske’s report of his fears of a power struggle in Denver with a tweet this evening. Payton denies that any issue exists with Broncos’ ownership stating that they were fantastic and that they “had a great visit.”

Ryans is still gaining traction and Caldwell and Shaw are also strong contenders, while Quinn has stated his desire to remain in Dallas, but if Payton is to be taken at his word, he should still be considered one of the favorites for this position.

3:01pm: Vowing to be “ultra aggressive” in its first coaching search, the Broncos’ new ownership came into this process with a goal of adding an experienced head coach. Recent developments may be leading the team in a different direction.

DeMeco Ryans has emerged as a frontrunner in this race, Mike Klis of 9News reports. The second-year 49ers defensive coordinator met with the Broncos and Texans late last week, nixing interviews with the Cardinals and Colts, and has been steadily rising in this race. While the Broncos are still considering Sean Payton, Jim Caldwell and Dan Quinn, Ryans’ rise is obviously notable considering his accomplishments with the 49ers this season.

But the team has cooled on Payton, Denver7’s Troy Renck adds (via Twitter). Payton also looks to have lost some interest in this job. A sense of what might have changed emerged Thursday. Recently, the former Saints HC was believed to be high on the Broncos’ new ownership group. Now, it might be a negative for the FOX analyst. Payton fears a potential power struggle with one member of the contingent, Mark Maske of the Washington Post tweets. Payton would want to work with Russell Wilson, who reached out to him recently, and is believed to be high on Denver’s defensive pieces. But an issue with ownership may well nix this potential partnership.

Rob Walton, CEO Greg Penner and co-owner Condoleezza Rice have been the ownership group’s key members during this search, joining GM George Paton. The latter is the only experienced football staffer involved here, given the ownership contingent arriving last summer, but Penner is set to make the final call on the team’s second HC hire in two years. It does not seem Rice, who joined the group after the Walton family, is Payton’s concern. The veteran HC has “loved” his interactions with the former Secretary of State, Maske adds (on Twitter).

The Broncos have not gone through second interviews yet, separating their search from this year’s other four. The Panthers just made their hire — Frank Reich — after interviewing he and Steve Wilks twice. If the Broncos want to hold a second interview with Ryans, they must wait until Jan. 30 because of the 49ers’ advancement to the NFC championship game.

David Shaw was believed to be a sleeper candidate for this position, but Klis omitted the longtime Stanford HC from the team’s mix Thursday. Shaw stepped down from his Cardinal post after three losing seasons in the past four years. Penner and Rice’s Stanford ties were thought to represent key connective tissue to Shaw, but Denver going with an NFL-seasoned coach makes sense given the recent failures of college hires.

Ryans, 38, has helmed the NFL’s top-ranked defense this season and has been viewed as likely to land one of this year’s jobs for a bit now. All five HC-needy teams reached out to the former linebacker. The Texans remain in the mix for their former defender, per Klis, but they certainly look to have competition from the Broncos.

Saints Seeking Two First-Round Picks For Sean Payton?

In the aftermath of the “Tuck Rule” game 21 years ago, the Buccaneers sent the Raiders a monster haul for Jon Gruden. Oakland collected two first-round picks, two second-rounders and $8MM in cash from Tampa Bay. Although the Bucs went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII a year later, their draft capital took a major hit when they replaced Tony Dungy with Gruden.

This trade has become relevant again, with Sean Payton on the market and Saints GM Mickey Loomis discussing his trade price with teams. While Payton said Loomis would likely ask for a mid- to late-first-round pick for his rights this year,’s Jeff Duncan points to the Raiders-Bucs trade. Loomis has told teams he wants a Gruden-esque package for Payton’s rights, with Duncan noting two first-round picks will be the starting point.

Should a team offer two first-rounders in future drafts, Duncan adds the Saints will want “higher mid-round picks” in the 2023 draft as part of the package as well. If the ante will be upped to this point, the HC-needy teams keen on hiring Payton will have more to consider. Though, the Broncos and Saints were reported to have agreed on compensation that includes a first-rounder and change already.

From the Saints’ perspective, such a haul would make sense. Four of the five HC-seeking teams have been connected to Payton, and he will have interviewed with three of them — the Texans, Broncos and Panthers — by week’s end. Payton is also expected to command a top-market coaching salary, as he has obvious leverage via the expanding market for his services and the option of staying at FOX for another year. Payton is seeking a four-year deal worth $20-$25MM per year, per Duncan. Judging by reports of the Broncos being set for an “ultra-aggressive” HC push and Panthers owner David Tepper being willing to give Payton “just about anything he wants,” the salary component here will be the lesser issue for teams.

The Broncos having just traded two first-round picks and two seconds for Russell Wilson certainly complicates their interest in meeting this asking price, though they did acquire a 2023 first-rounder in the Bradley Chubb trade. The Texans would be in better position to meet it, considering the Deshaun Watson swap armed them with three first-rounders. Houston holds two first-round picks and two seconds in the upcoming draft, but sending much of the Watson haul for a coach also would complicate the rebuilding team’s ability to stock its roster.

Payton said recently the Saints’ compensation would change “considerably” if this process is tabled to 2024, when just one season would remain on his contract. Loomis, however, has told Saints staffers he is comfortable waiting a year to trade Payton’s rights, according to Duncan. Teams in the Payton sweepstakes could attempt to test Loomis’ desire here, considering the Saints sent their 2023 first-rounder to the Eagles just before last year’s draft. But the Texans, Panthers and Broncos have fallen on hard times recently. The Saints’ potential push for a huge haul would attempt to capitalize on that while giving themselves a package that would help their now-Dennis Allenled operation, which did not start especially well in 2022.

It’s complicated because I have such great respect for him,” Loomis said of Payton last week. “He’s a close friend of mine. He’s a great coach. I want the best for him. I do. We do, collectively as an organization. But I also recognize that … his contract is a valuable asset to our club, and it’s our duty to maximize that.”

The Gruden ask is on the high end of the spectrum in terms of modern swaps for coaches. Bill Parcells cost the Jets first-, second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 1997; the Patriots received a package headlined by first- and fourth-rounders for Bill Belichick in 2000. Mike Holmgren cost the Seahawks a second-rounder in 1999; Herm Edwards cost the Chiefs a fourth in 2006.

Payton, 59, is believed to be 50-50 on coaching in 2023, potentially waiting out other jobs that might be available next year. That was believed to be Payton’s plan before this round of interviews started, but Duncan adds the Texans and Broncos meetings are believed to have gone well. The 16-year Saints HC was particularly impressed with Denver’s ownership group, though he is also intrigued by Houston’s draft capital and cap space. The Texans’ projected $40MM is projected to be among the top five entering the offseason.

Payton’s comfort level with the Broncos’ new ownership has been reported on multiple occasions, and the Rob Walton-fronted contingent would be able to pay top dollar in terms of salary. But the Broncos’ ability to build a team around Wilson would be greatly impacted by a two-first-rounder package. Dan Quinn has been mentioned as leading Denver’s non-Payton contingent; the Cowboys DC interviews with the Broncos on Friday.

Latest On Broncos’ HC Search

The Broncos have wasted no time in turning the page on the 2022 NFL season. It was reported yesterday that Denver had been granted permission to interview former Saints head coach Sean Payton for their open coaching position. Payton isn’t the only coach on the radar in Denver, though, and the Broncos have moved forward with plans for interviews with other candidates, according to Mike Klis of 9News.

The search will be led by a committee of owners and general manager George Paton. Owner and CEO Greg Penner intends to lead things with the help of fellow owners Carrie Penner, Rob Walton, and Condoleeza Rice. After failed stints with first-time head coaches Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio, and Nathaniel Hackett, the committee is putting preference on previous head coaching experience. The process will begin Monday when Denver will send out permission requests to interview candidates who are currently under contract with other teams. They plan to hold virtual interviews with multiple candidates this week.

The first in-person interview will occur this week and it will reportedly be with current Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Despite the team’s struggles this season, Evero has consistently fielded a top 10 defense throughout the year. Denver ranked 10th in points allowed this year, seventh in yards allowed, 10th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in passing yards allowed. Evero accomplished this feat despite a brutal number of players on injured reserve throughout the season. Evero doesn’t fit the committee’s preference as a potential first-time head coach, but he showed he had the ability to handle a jump in responsibility as a first-time coordinator this year. He also holds a distinction as the only current candidate with an existing relationship with the players.

The two names that have come out of the woodwork already in the search, besides Payton and Evero, are University of Michigan head coach and former head coach of the 49ers Jim Harbaugh and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Harbaugh announced his plans this week to remain the head coach in Ann Arbor, but that won’t stop NFL teams from knocking on his door, virtually. Harbaugh is expected to be one of the virtual interviewees this week. There is, of course, a chance that Michigan attempts to entice Harbaugh to stay with a pay raise. Despite his coaching success at the college and NFL level, Harbaugh still earns less that Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker in the Big Ten Conference.

Payton’s situation was discussed Saturday, including an update reporting that the Broncos and Saints “appear to be on the same page” with respect to trade compensation. The Saints are reportedly looking for a first-round pick and more, and apparently, Denver is willing to pay the price, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Rapoport also claims that the Broncos are interested in interviewing Payton as soon as possible, but due to his current obligations to New Orleans, an in-person interview with Payton cannot occur until January 17. The team could have held a virtual interview with Payton this week but reportedly decided to wait until he was fully available.

Denver will likewise have to wait to interview Quinn. The former Falcons head coach is headed to the playoffs with Dallas and, as a result, is not able to be interviewed until the 16th or 17th of January. Quinn was highly sought-after in the last hiring cycle, participating in interviews with the Broncos, Bears, Dolphins, Vikings, and Giants last year. He instead chose to remain in Dallas, signing a multi-year contract extension as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Despite the Broncos’ eagerness to move the process along, they are still required to comply with the league’s Rooney Rule. Interestingly, despite being a Black coach, Evero does not count towards the Rooney Rule as an internal candidate. Black coaches expected to be in the running for head coaching gigs this offseason are Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Morris and Ryans would not fit the committee’s preference for head coaching experience, but since Denver seems to have its heart set on Payton, interviews with these candidates would likely be nominal in nature. If this is, indeed, the case, it would be yet another example of the shortcomings of the league’s current efforts at diversity as teams only appear to be going through the motions when interviewing minority candidates.

The schedule is slowly forming for Penner, Patton, and company. Evero’s in-person interview this week, Harbaugh and others virtual interviews this week, and the pursuit of Payton and Quinn a little over a week from now. After ending the season on a high note with a win over the Chargers, Denver is looking to continue on with its forward momentum in making a home run hire at head coach.

Broncos GM Believes Russell Wilson Is Fixable; Next HC To Report To Ownership

Broncos GM George Paton has seen a few members of his 2021 draft class become high-end starters, and the team’s Bradley Chubb trade at this year’s deadline netted a first-round pick. But Paton’s two biggest moves since taking the GM reins — hiring Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and trading for Russell Wilson — have moved him to a relatively hot seat.

Although Paton is staying on in the wake of Hackett joining a short list of HCs fired before the end of their first season (just five since the 1970 merger), new Broncos CEO Greg Penner said (via the next head coach will report directly to him. This effectively minimizes Paton’s power, and it should not be considered out of the question the Broncos will be looking for a new GM if the next head coach insists on it.

Paton, 52, was a sought-after GM candidate for years and was viewed as likely to stay on in Denver prior to Hackett’s ouster. But the Hackett-Wilson pairing ignited a stunningly ineffective offense, leading to Denver falling well short of expectations despite a stout defense. The Broncos rank last in scoring — down from 23rd with Teddy Bridgewater and OC Pat Shurmur at the controls last season — and chose to both bring in a game management assistant and move their QBs coach (Klint Kubiak) to the play-calling role. The next Denver HC will be tasked with repairing Wilson, something Paton believes can happen.

We saw flashes of Russ this year. Russ even said he didn’t play up to his standard,” Paton said. “He will be the first one to tell you he didn’t play up to his standard, didn’t play up to our standard. He needs to be better.

“I don’t think we made a coaching move based on Russ. That wasn’t what it’s all about. That’s not why we’re getting a new coach, to turn around Russ, it’s about the entire organization. It’s about the entire football team. It’s just not one player. It’s not whether Russ is fixable or not. We do believe he is. We do.”

After making the blockbuster trade for the nine-time Pro Bowl passer, the Broncos gave him significant input in helping design the offense, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The Broncos also allowed Wilson’s personal team unfettered access. Attempting for much of this season to play more from the pocket — a scenario some Seahawks staffers envisioned would take place as Wilson (fourth all time in QB rushing yards) aged — the 11th-year QB has produced by far his worst season. The potential Hall of Famer has played through injuries for much of the year and often lined up with a backup-laden offensive line and receiving corps. The Broncos have also been without Javonte Williams since October. But Wilson’s struggles to this degree (29th in QBR — a sharp decline from 10th in a down 2021 season) have been one of the most shocking developments in recent quarterback history.

The Broncos gave Wilson a five-year, $245MM extension in August, tying him to the team through the 2028 season. The team’s offensive freefall will certainly impact its next HC search. Paton, Penner, Rob Walton and minority owner Condoleezza Rice will work toward finding a staff that can coax better play from the current franchise centerpiece.

The decision to have Russell here was a long-term one,” Penner said. “This season has not been up to his standards or expectations. We saw some glimpses of it in the last few weeks. He knows he can play better, we know he can play better, and we know he will do the right work in the offseason to be ready for next year.

George and I have had a chance to get to know each other — we talk every day since we purchased the team a number of months ago — and he acknowledged right up front there were a couple of decisions that hadn’t worked out as he had expected. But I understand his thought process. He understands the work that needs to be done in this offseason, and I’m going to rely on him heavily as we go through and make these changes.”

The team offered the interim HC gig to DC Ejiro Evero, who declined, leading to Jerry Rosburg — whom the Broncos pulled out of retirement to address Hackett’s game management issues — taking the gig. But the team wants to interview Evero for the full-time position. While Evero may be in the mix, Mike Klis of 9News notes experience will likely be prioritized. Frank Reich, Dan Quinn, Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton should be considered candidates, per Klis, and’s Albert Breer heard Harbaugh connections to Denver shortly before Hackett’s firing.

Payton will require trade compensation to land, as the Saints still hold his rights, and will be coveted by every team searching for a new coach. Reich said he hopes to coach again in 2023, while Quinn was a Broncos finalist this year. Paton added experience is a plus but not a requirement.

Harbaugh signed a new Michigan contract last year and recently reaffirmed his commitment to the Wolverines, but the ex-49ers HC has long lingered on the NFL fringe. The Vikings interviewed Harbaugh last year, and the Colts have now been linked to an attempt to bring him back to Indianapolis. Harbaugh, 59, has a relationship with John Elway, per Breer, dating back to the former’s time as Stanford’s HC. Elway is no longer in a regular role but works as a consultant; he had input in the Broncos’ process to trade for Wilson this year. Harbaugh’s 49ers stay did include some notable quarterback success stories. The fiery HC elevated Alex Smith‘s career in the early 2010s and redesigned his offense to suit the talents of Colin Kaepernick, leading to three straight NFC championship game appearances.

Coaches formerly with the Seahawks could be candidates as well, with CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson indicating options like Quinn and Dolphins QBs coach Darrell Bevell — a longtime Seahawks OC — have been brought up (Twitter links). The Broncos had success when pivoting to retreated head coaches John Fox and Gary Kubiak. While Peyton Manning had plenty to do with that, it appears the team will try to move in this direction after three straight first-timers — Hackett, Vic Fangio, Vance Joseph — could not end the now-seven-season playoff drought.

NFL Approves Rob Walton As Broncos Owner

Rob Walton‘s $4.65 billion bid for the Broncos has led to his officially becoming the franchise’s owner. At a Tuesday owners’ meeting, Walton’s Broncos acquisition received approval. Owners unanimously voted to approve Walton’s purchase, Roger Goodell said.

The Walmart heir now becomes the NFL’s richest owner — by a gargantuan margin. Walton’s approximately $70 billion in net worth is more than triple the NFL’s previous richest owner. His Broncos purchase nearly doubled the previous NFL record of $2.3 billion — set by Panthers owner David Tepper in 2018.

This transition ends the Bowlen family’s run as NFL owners. Pat Bowlen, who bought the Broncos in 1984, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. Seven of the franchise’s eight Super Bowl berths came under Bowlen’s leadership. But the late owner’s battle with Alzheimer’s led to the Broncos being put in the Pat Bowlen Trust. The NFL at one point was behind Bowlen’s youngest child, Brittany Bowlen, taking over eventually, but a squabble between other Bowlen children ended up scuttling that plan. The Broncos went up for sale in February, and Brittany recently stepped down from her post inside the organization.

Walton’s daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, and her husband, Greg Penner, are expected to run the day-to-day Broncos operations. Walton, 77, should be expected to be the team’s representative when owner votes are required. The Walton ownership group has swelled in recent weeks as well. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton have signed on as part-owners, joining Starbucks CEO Mellody Hobson in that capacity. Walton’s group has spoken with Peyton Manning about a possible role — a long-rumored scenario — but nothing definitive has emerged on that front yet.

This marks one of the most pivotal offseasons in Broncos history. Their new coaching hire (Nathaniel Hackett) will obviously play a major role in how the team fares in the near future, but the trade for Russell Wilson and the transition to Walton as owner represent bigger-picture moves for the organization.

Walton’s deep pockets will probably come into play regarding Wilson’s guarantee — one almost certain to venture into nine-figure territory. Walton’s approval also could lead to Wilson extension talks taking place this year. That matter could be tabled to 2023, but with more than a month between Walton’s transition and Week 1, the door is open for the Broncos to begin discussing a monster Wilson re-up.

Broncos Notes: Hamilton, Washington, Risner

As the official takeover of the Broncos by the Rob Walton-led group draws nearer, another significant name has been added to the list of people set to become the franchise’s new owners. Less than one month after Condoleezza Rice joined the group, the team announced a second noteworthy arrival.

Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has joined the ownership group, per a statement from Walton. It added that the team is “delighted” to bring the 37-year-old into the fold, and that his “resilient sprit and and standard of excellence will be an asset to the ownership group and the Broncos organization.”

In 2020, Hamilton became the all-time winningest driver in the series’ history in terms of grand Prix victories, adding to his lengthy list of individual records. His seven World Championships place him in a tie for the No. 1 spot in that regard. He represents another unique addition to the expanding ownership group, which is expected to be confirmed via a league vote later this month.

Here are couple other notes from the Mile High City:

  • Rookie receiver Montrell Washington faces steep competition for snaps on offense, given the presence of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler. He could earn a role on special teams right away, however; Troy Renck of Denver7 reports that Washington is currently the frontrunner to be the team’s punt returner. During his career at Samford, the fifth-rounder showcased his ability in the third phase, averaging 16.4 yards per punt return, totaling four touchdowns in that department. Renck adds that Washington has also impressed as a receiver, so a rotational role (especially in the absence of Tim Patrick, who will likely miss the 2022 campaign with a torn ACL) isn’t out of the question.
  • Left guard Dalton Risner has shed considerable weight this offseason, per Renck. The 27-year-old has dropped to just over 300 pounds, having previously came in at 325. A full-time starter in each of his three seasons with the team, Risner will be a key member of the Broncos’ offensive line, widely regarded as the x-factor in the offense’s 2022 success with Russell Wilson and a highly-regarded group of skill position players surrounding him.

Terrell Davis Joined Josh Harris’ Ownership Group; More Fallout From Broncos Bidding

Although the Broncos went for an American sports-record $4.65 billion — to the Rob Walton-fronted group — last week, Walton’s was not the only bid that would have shattered the NFL record.

Josh Harris‘ group is believed to have bid between $4.25 billion and $4.5 billion, Mike Klis of 9News reports. Harris, who owns the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, was prepared to go $5 billion for the Broncos, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. But he was not assured Walton would not top that bid. That led to Harris’ group standing down, letting Walton’s bid win the historic sweepstakes. Harris is prepared to pursue ownership of another NFL team, Florio adds.

Tied to a net worth greater than $70 billion, putting him in position to be by far the NFL’s wealthiest owner, Walton had long been considered the frontrunner to acquire the AFC West franchise. Walton’s daughter (Carrie Walton Penner) and son-in-law (Greg Penner) are expected to run the day-to-day operations, Klis adds. Walton, 77, will continue to live in Arizona. Owners of the league’s other 31 teams will vote on this sale soon.

While Magic Johnson was part of Harris’ group, Klis notes Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis joined that investment team as well. Davis, 49, starred for the Broncos in the 1990s, seeing a 1999 knee injury shorten his career, and played seven seasons with the team.

They reached out; we talked,’’ Davis said, via Klis, of his affiliation with Harris’ bid. “They said they were interested in bringing me in as part of their ownership group and they wanted to know if the feeling was mutual. And it certainly was. And then it was waiting to see what would happen. I was on standby hoping for the bid, but obviously it never came.”

Rob Walton Submits NFL-Record $4.65 Billion Bid For Broncos

The second round of bids for the Denver Broncos came through, and the long-rumored frontrunner remained ahead in the race. Rob Walton‘s group submitted a $4.65 billion bid to buy the AFC West franchise, Mike Klis of 9News reports. The group enters a sales agreement, one expected to lead to the Broncos having new owners ahead of the 2022 season.

That price not only shatters the NFL record — one David Tepper set when he bought the Carolina Panthers for $2.3 billion in 2018 — but breaks the American sports record by more than $2 billion. Walton, his daughter Carrie Walton Penner and son-in-law Greg Penner — all Walmart family heirs — will take over a Broncos franchise that had been in Pat Bowlen‘s family from 1984 until it went on the market in February. Although the Broncos have been run by the Pat Bowlen Trust for years, disagreements among the late owner’s children led to the team going up for sale.

Walton’s group beat out the Josh Harris– and Magic Johnson-fronted contingent, along with those headed by Mat and Justin Ishbia and Jose Feliciano, respectively. All four finalists submitted bids Monday, but Walton’s — unsurprisingly, as his approximately $70 billion net worth puts him in line to become the NFL’s richest owner — won out. Walton’s net worth more than triples Tepper’s. The Panthers owner’s $16.7 billion worth currently leads the league. Rob Walton, 77, is the oldest son of the late Walmart founder, Sam Walton.

I have enjoyed getting to know Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner throughout this process,” Broncos CEO and president Joe Ellis said in a statement. “Learning more about their background and vision for the Denver Broncos, I am confident that their leadership and support will help this team achieve great things on and off the field.”

This transaction’s next step will be an NFL finance committee review. A three-fourths approval among other owners will greenlight Walton’s transition to becoming the Broncos’ next owner. Tepper’s Panthers purchase garnered a 32-0 vote. Walton’s acquisition is not expected to be met with resistance. A special convening between NFL owners is expected to take place in July, Klis notes. Walton appears set to be the Broncos’ controlling owner. But his daughter and son-in-law, along with Arial Investments co-CEO Mellody Hobson, will play roles.

All four ownership groups reached out to Peyton Manning, who had expressed interest in being part of the franchise’s next group. John Elway had as well. It is unclear as of Tuesday night if the Hall of Fame quarterbacks will move forward with a Walton-run franchise. Elway, the team’s GM from 2011-20, currently serves as a consultant to GM George Paton.