Sean Payton

AFC West Notes: Chargers, Broncos, Kelce

Jim Harbaugh talked up ex-Michigan pupil J.J. McCarthy extensively before the draft — potentially leading to the unexpected Justin Herbert trade inquiries — but the latter’s prospect status affected the Chargers‘ plans. Drake Maye going off the board at No. 3 stonewalled Chargers hopes of trading down from No. 5 overall, according to’s Jeremy Fowler. Maye prompted the Giants and Vikings to propose the Patriots deals involving 2025 first-rounders. The Vikings spoke with the Chargers, but it is clear McCarthy did not drive interest the way Maye did. A trade from No. 11 to No. 5 would have cost the Vikings, who memorably interviewed Harbaugh in 2022, a future first-rounder. No major interest in the pick led to the Bolts staying at 5 and choosing Joe Alt, who is set to begin work at right tackle in Los Angeles.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • Staying with the Chargers, they will have both their Ravens RB imports at full strength during the offseason program. Following his second major injury — an Achilles tear sustained in Week 1J.K. Dobbins deemed himself “100%.” “I’m 100% now,” Dobbins said, via’s Cameron Wolfe. “It was like a walk in the park, it was like a sprained ankle. It was very easy, because I had the knee [injury] — the knee was pretty hard. The Achilles was, I would say, easy, just because that’s my mentality. Got the injury-prone [label] out there, but I think that the storm is over with. I think that I’m going to take off now. There will be no setbacks.” The past injuries limited Dobbins in free agency; he signed a one-year, $1.6MM deal that comes with just $50K guaranteed. Gus Edwards landed a two-year, $6.5MM pact to rejoin Greg Roman in L.A.
  • After Sean Payton — upon the Broncos trading Jerry Jeudy — made it clear he wants an expanded Marvin Mims role on offense,’s Jeff Legwold notes the second-year Denver HC drove the effort to draft Troy Franklin near the top of the fourth round. Payton texted Broncos GM George Paton before the fourth round about wanting to move up toward the top of the board to draft Franklin, whom the Broncos had Franklin graded much higher than his ultimate draft slot (No. 102). The Broncos traded Nos. 121, 136 and 207 to move up (via the Seahawks) for Bo Nix‘s top Ducks target. The Broncos still roster Courtland Sutton, though teams have called about a trade for the somewhat disgruntled wideout, but the team has now added a host of WRs — Mims, Franklin and Josh Reynolds chief among them — under Payton. Sutton and Tim Patrick remain from the John Elway GM era.
  • Broncos third-round pick Jonah Elliss underwent shoulder surgery late last year, but the Denver Gazette’s Chris Tomasson notes the Utah alum has been cleared. Denver returns its top three edge rushers from last season (Nik Bonitto, Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper), but Browning and Cooper are in contract years. Jonah Elliss, the latest son of ex-Bronco DT Luther Elliss to enter the NFL, will likely mix in as a rotational OLB to start his pro career.
  • The Chiefs signed off on a straight-up raise for Travis Kelce, as no new years are included in the superstar tight end’s latest deal. The future Hall of Famer remains signed through 2025, and’s Albert Breer notes no void years were added for cap purposes. The re-up increased Kelce’s 2024 cap number from $15.6MM to $19.6MM, per OverTheCap. Kelce’s 2025 cap number checks in at $19.8MM; the bulk of the 34-year-old pass catcher’s 2025 salary will become guaranteed on day 3 of the 2025 league year.
  • The Paton-Payton duo made a recent staff addition as well. Joey DiCresce will move from intern to full-time football data scientist with the Broncos,’s Seth Walder tweets.

Broncos Met With Drake Maye, Spencer Rattler; Raiders’ QB Need Impacted Team’s Bo Nix Plan

While Sean Payton effectively admitted he participated in a smokescreen effort regarding the Broncos‘ interest in trading up for a quarterback, the team was most closely tied to Bo Nix during the draft run-up. That did not end up costing the Broncos, who selected the Oregon prospect at No. 12. But the team also did its homework on other passers.

We heard before the draft that J.J. McCarthy trekked to Denver and Nix threw for Broncos brass in Eugene, but’s Albert Breer notes the Broncos did meet with Drake Maye and Spencer Rattler before the draft. Maye proved to be well out of Denver’s price range, as New England turned down two offers — from the Giants and Vikings — that included 2025 first-round picks. Ticketed to be Derek Carr‘s backup in New Orleans, Rattler did not go off the board until Round 5.

[RELATED: Assessing Bo Nix’s Prospect Profile]

Multiple reports pointed to the Broncos being interested in making an aggressive move up the board for a passer; McCarthy, who met with the Broncos on a “30” visit, was mentioned as a target. It turns out Broncos-Nix connections early this offseason doubled as prescient reports. The five-year college starter will likely be given the keys early in his rookie season, with’s Dan Graziano mentioning during a recent TV appearance the recent Pac-12 star is expected to “play right away.”

Broncos GM George Paton scouted Nix at four Oregon games but did not share his views with Payton, per Breer, with an aim toward the Super Bowl-winning HC — and the current Broncos top decision-maker — reaching his own conclusions on the prospect. Payton said post-draft Broncos brass viewed the Vikings as being McCarthy fans and the Raiders eyeing Michael Penix Jr. The Broncos did carry some fear, especially after the Falcons chose Penix at No. 8, the Raiders would leapfrog them for Nix, Breer adds. The QB-needy Raiders’ presence at No. 13 influenced the Broncos to stay put and make a pick many have labeled a reach.

The Raiders were, in fact, interested in Penix — more so than Nix or McCarthy — according to’s Jeremy Fowler. After a second straight offseason of extensive work on QB draft prospects, the Raiders did not add a high-value pick at the position. As the Raiders regroup around Gardner Minshew, the Broncos do not have a clear hurdle in Nix’s path to seeing action early. Denver has Jarrett Stidham as a placeholder and took a flier on Zach Wilson before passing on the ex-Jet’s fifth-year option. Barring something unexpected, it would surprise if Nix is not Denver’s starter early this season.

Although QBs coach Davis Webb ran Nix’s workout, Breer adds the Paton-Payton tandem — along with ownership — did not reveal to other members of the team’s staff where Nix stood on the team’s board. It is believed the Broncos viewed Nix as this draft’s third-best QB prospect. Most do not agree with that placement, and longtime draft analyst Todd McShay said during an appearance on The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo Podcast (h/t the New York Post) at least 10 NFL evaluators he spoke to did not have a first-round grade on Nix. The Broncos are high on Nix’s accuracy, with their research effort removing QB prospects’ screens and short routes to reveal a player who still ranked as one of Division I-FBS’ most precise passers when those dumpoffs are taken out of the equation.

Since Peyton Manning‘s retirement, the Broncos have used two first-round picks on QBs (Nix, Paxton Lynch) and one second-rounder (Drew Lock) on the position. The team made three trades for starters, obtaining Joe Flacco (2019), Teddy Bridgewater (2021) and Russell Wilson (2022), while signing Case Keenum (two years, $36MM) in 2018. Nothing has worked for the NFL’s only franchise to see a QB retire following a Super Bowl win. That has occurred twice in Denver, and the team has encountered a much tougher journey replacing Manning than John Elway.

Nix now holds the keys to the Broncos’ effort to pick up the pieces post-Russell Wilson, whose $85MM dead money number will cut into Denver’s ability to capitalize on the No. 12 pick’s rookie contract. Although Payton led the effort in pointing Drew Brees to the Hall of Fame and helping develop Tony Romo in Dallas, grooming a first-round pick from scratch will be new territory. With Wilson’s contract quickly becoming an albatross, the Broncos did not have much of a choice but to turn back to the draft.

Broncos HC Sean Payton Prepared To “Mortgage Future” To Trade Up For QB?

Broncos GM George Paton recently conceded that he would be prepared to part with future first-round draft picks to trade up from the No. 12 overall selection in this year’s draft if such a move allows him to select a franchise quarterback. We have also heard that while head coach Sean Payton is naturally interested in a trade-up for a QB, the club may ultimately choose to trade down to accumulate more assets; after all, thanks to the trades bringing Russell Wilson and Payton to Denver, the Broncos have not made a first-round selection since 2021 and do not have a second-round choice this year.

Tony Pauline of, however, hears that Payton is not merely willing to contemplate a move up the board. The former Super Bowl-winning HC — who narrowly missed out on drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017 when the Chiefs moved up 17 spots to leapfrog the Payton-led Saints to land the future star — is reportedly prepared to “mortgage the franchise’s future” to acquire one of the top passer prospects in the 2024 class.

The near miss on Mahomes has, according to Pauline’s sources, left a sour taste in Payton’s mouth, and he is looking to right past wrongs. Given that the teams holding the top three selections in this year’s draft have the need to add blue chip signal-callers of their own, the Cardinals’ No. 4 overall choice is perhaps the highest pick the Broncos could theoretically acquire. Arizona is certainly open for business, but it is unclear just how far down the board the team would be willing to go, and the same can be said of the Chargers, who hold the No. 5 pick and who may not want to give a division rival the opportunity to draft a franchise QB.

It is certainly possible that Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye will be taken with the first three picks of the draft and will therefore be unavailable for the Broncos. Per Pauline, that would suit Payton just fine, as he is said to have his eyes set on Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. McCarthy’s blend of intelligence and ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly is particularly appealing to Payton, perhaps because it reminds him so much of longtime charge Drew Brees.

Of course, this is hardly the first time that the Broncos have been rumored to be interested in trading up for a quarterback. All of the earlier reports to that effect have noted how costly such an endeavor would be, and Pauline acknowledges that Denver’s package would need to include at least one future first-rounder, the No. 12 pick this year, and cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Pauline himself said back in February that the heavy cost of jumping up the draft board would likely preclude the Broncos from doing so, and that the team would only deal Surtain as a last resort.

It seems that much has changed in the past couple of months, with Payton now prepared to do whatever it takes to nab a prospect like McCarthy. We learned just last week that the Broncos may be more receptive to the notion of trading Surtain than they were at last season’s trade deadline, and Pauline’s report is consistent with that line of thinking.

If Denver is ultimately unable to jump up the board, Payton & Co. would content themselves with Oregon’s Bo Nix as Plan B. A recent projection suggested that the Ravens, who hold the No. 30 overall pick, may be willing to deal that selection to the Broncos, who would use it to select Nix. A subsequent report indicated that Baltimore is not, in fact, looking to move out of the first round, though the right offer can of course change draft plans in a hurry.

Only a small percentage of Pauline’s sources believe the Broncos would select Nix with their No. 12 choice. That stands to reason in light of a recent report from Ari Meirov of, who hears from league executives that Nix is more of a Day 2 prospect.

Vikings, Broncos On Radar To Trade Up For First-Round QB?

This year’s draft could begin with three quarterbacks, and the teams currently holding the top choices have been steadily linked to taking a first-round passer. Teams in need of signal-callers who do not carry friendly draft real estate will, of course, be monitoring the buzz circulating around the Bears, Commanders and Patriots’ draft blueprints.

Two clubs who appear to be among those watching top QB prospects look to be those positioned just outside the top 10. Holding the Nos. 11 and 12 overall picks, the Vikings and Broncos are believed to be interested in drafting a quarterback high. While it will take considerable draft capital to climb into the top three, neither of these two are in good shape at the position. Minnesota, however, may still have the inside track on Kirk Cousins, who has expressed his fondness for his Twin Cities situation on a number of occasions.

[RELATED: Vikings Want To Re-Sign Kirk Cousins]

Some around the league are keeping an eye on the Vikings’ interest in moving up for a passer,’s Jeremy Fowler offers, noting the team did extensive work on the QB front last year. The Vikes were the team most closely tied to showing Trey Lance interest — before the Cowboys completed a trade for the former 49ers No. 3 overall pick — and they did not come to an agreement on another extension with Cousins.

Guaranteed money into the deal’s third year provided a sticking point, and the Vikings merely restructured Cousins’ contract. The latter transaction has put Minnesota in a time crunch, and the team could face the prospect of losing its starting QB — who has mentioned testing free agency — and being hit with a $28.5MM dead-money bill brought on by void years. If the Vikings do not re-sign Cousins by the start of the 2024 league year (March 13), that $28.5MM accelerates onto their 2024 cap sheet. Not quite the Tom Brady void years-driven cap charge the Buccaneers just faced ($35.1MM), but that is a high dead-cap number devoted to one player.

Cousins, 35, will undoubtedly factor in a potential Vikings desire to trade up for a quarterback into his latest free agency decision. Cousins is the longest-tenured Vikings QB1 since Tommy Kramer, narrowly edging Daunte Culpepper as the third-longest-tenured QB1 in team history. Like Culpepper in 2005, Cousins is coming off a major injury. The Vikings and other teams will be factoring Cousins’ Achilles tear into prospective offers.

The Broncos are almost definitely moving on from Russell Wilson, preparing to enter dead-money infamy in the process. The forthcoming dead-cap hit will cost the Broncos $84.6MM, which will be spread over two offseasons due to the expected post-June 1 designation. This stands to limit the Broncos’ interest in pursuing a pricey veteran — should any starter-caliber arms be available by the time the legal tampering period begins March 11 — and would naturally make Sean Payton‘s team more interested in a draft investment. The Wilson-fronted five-game win streak midway through this season, however, moved the Broncos down to the No. 12 slot. That will complicate a move into high-end QB real estate.

A rumor at the East-West Shrine Game involved Payton being interested in the Broncos moving up to draft Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline writes. Of course, the cost of doing business here would be steep — and the team would need a willing seller. The prospect of Denver trading up may already be drowning in cold water, too, with Pauline adding the team should not be considered likely to move in this direction because of the draft capital — and/or established players — that would need to be included.

The Broncos gave up their first-round picks in 2022 and ’23 in the Wilson trade, and while they obtained a 2023 first-rounder from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb swap, it was subsequently thrown in to acquire Payton’s rights last year. This stands to be the Broncos’ first chance to use a Round 1 pick since they nabbed Patrick Surtain ninth overall in 2021. Surtain has become one of the NFL’s top young corners, and GM George Patonwho is still with the team despite being the point man behind the Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett calls — said Surtain is viewed as a cornerstone piece. Denver’s actions at last year’s trade deadline, which featured at least two first-rounders to even warrant a Surtain discussion, back that up. Pauline adds the Broncos do not want to part with Surtain and would only do so as a last resort in an effort to trade up for a QB.

Wilson’s 2023 rebound notwithstanding, the Broncos have obviously struggled to fill this spot since Peyton Manning‘s 2016 retirement. They were in the Cousins mix in 2018 but bowed out — as the Vikings emerged in pole position — en route to Case Keenum. The Broncos would seemingly have another shot at Cousins now, though QB demand would still make the veteran starter costly — even after the Achilles tear. As of early February, the Vikings are projected to hold more than $24MM in cap space; the Broncos are nearly $24MM over the projected salary ceiling.

Most around the NFL view the Broncos reconciling with Wilson as unlikely, Fowler adds. If Wilson were to remain on Denver’s roster past the fifth day of the 2024 league year, his 2025 base salary ($37MM) locks in. That would balloon Denver’s 2025 dead money for a Wilson release past $85MM. Hence, the team’s controversial maneuvering in an attempt to move the date on which Wilson’s injury guarantee vests.

Although Wilson was fond of Payton prior to the parties’ partnership, Fowler adds Payton let it be known behind the scenes he was not big on the ex-Seahawks star. Wilson’s penchant for creating plays out of structure ran counter to how Payton prefers his offense to run, being part of the reason — along with the injury guarantee — the Broncos benched him for Jarrett Stidham in Week 17. Fowler mentions Minnesota as a destination Wilson would likely pursue, given Kevin O’Connell‘s presence, in the event Cousins leaves after six years. O’Connell worked alongside ex-Seahawks OC Shane Waldron under Sean McVay. The Vikings also roster Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson.

If/once Wilson departs Denver, his next team will not need to pay him nearly what the Broncos and Seahawks have. Wilson’s 2023 rebound still probably places him as a mid-tier starter, but Fowler adds his next team could build around him more effectively due to the offset language in the Broncos’ five-year, $245MM extension. Wilson signing at a low rate would be punitive for the Broncos, as their two-year starter’s next deal helps determine how much dead money will be on tap.

Cousins and Wilson join Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill as experienced starter options set to hit the market. But Denver and Minnesota will need to weigh their chances of trading up in Round 1 against spending on a veteran. There will be plenty of moving parts at QB for certain teams this offseason, with the Bears’ upcoming Williams-or-Justin Fields decision a rather important domino as well.

Latest On Broncos, Russell Wilson

Unsurprisingly, the Broncos’ decision to bench Russell Wilson has generated some fallout. The process that led to this call transpired during much of the team’s five-game win streak earlier this season

Wilson has been expecting to be released since shortly after the team’s win over the Chiefs on Oct. 29, according to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini (subscription required). Despite Wilson playing much better in 2023 than he did during a shockingly mediocre 2022, his contract has hovered as a big-picture issue for the Broncos.

Sean Payton acknowledged the economic component involved with this benching — one that comes exactly a year after the Raiders shelved Derek Carr to play Jarrett Stidham for contract reasons — but said the team wants to gather some intel on its backup before season’s end. With the Broncos’ last-second loss to the Patriots all but slamming the door shut on their playoff hopes, the initiation of Wilson divorce proceedings makes sense. The inevitable release will bring a seismic dead-money hit, one that will more than double the record the Falcons set last year ($40.5MM) when they traded Matt Ryan to the Colts.

It will cost the Broncos $84.6MM in dead money to cut Wilson in 2024. They will assuredly spread that number over two offseasons with a post-June 1 designation, but this will still represent a significant chapter in NFL transaction history — one that will hamstring the Broncos for two more years. It is unclear where Wilson will end up and how the Broncos — thanks to the Payton-Wilson experiment producing a midseason surge that revived the team’s playoff hopes — will go about replacing him. At 7-8, Denver’s draft slot sits 14th presently. But this drama has played out behind the scenes for weeks.

Shortly after the Broncos’ 24-9 win over the Chiefs, GM George Paton initiated the conversation to Wilson’s agent centered around the QB delaying his 2025 guarantee. The third-year Broncos GM said Wilson would be benched for the season’s final nine games if he did not delay the $37MM guarantee for 2025, Russini reports. That number, which shifts from an injury guarantee to a full guarantee on Day 5 of the 2024 league year, is behind the Broncos’ decision to bench Wilson now. This did not amount to a full-on ultimatum, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who notes team brass went through Wilson’s agent rather than bringing the QB into a meeting and demanding he adjust his deal or lose his starting job.

The Broncos’ ultimatum, reiterated days after Paton’s initial request, prompted Wilson’s agent to contact the NFLPA, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reports. Paton is said to have noted Wilson’s benching would be financially motivated, rather than for skill or performance. Reviewing the matter, the NFLPA wrote a letter to the Broncos and indicated it had consulted with the NFL management council, per Anderson, who offers that the team then sent Wilson’s camp a letter conveying the QB’s refusal to change his contract’s guarantee structure would be respected. The letter, however, also indicated Payton would now dictate if Wilson would be benched. The Broncos never previously informed the 35-year-old passer when he would be shelved, however, according to Russini.

Ultimately, the Broncos’ talks with Wilson’s camp about delaying the 2025 guarantee were not amicable and were not in accordance with the CBA, per Anderson. Though, the team does not share the viewpoint the talks were not CBA-compliant. But this relationship — one that veered from disastrous to adequate on the field from 2022-23 — looks to have been deteriorating over the past two months. Wilson has likely thrown his last pass as a Bronco, with Stidham — given a two-year, $10MM deal in March — in place to start the final two games.

The contract component will lead to this trade being viewed as one of the worst in NFL history. Wilson’s 26-TD, eight-INT bounce-back effort notwithstanding,’s James Palmer notes people in Denver’s building viewed this benching as a football-related call — with the obvious financial undercurrent — for the 2023 season’s remainder.

Payton has said the offense needs to improve, and Palmer adds the new Broncos HC believes too many elements are present in the team’s current attack. Prior to the Wilson-guided rally against the Patriots, the Broncos’ offense struggled during an ugly effort. Payton has since said he does not view the up-tempo attack Wilson thrived in as sustainable over the course of a game. Pro Football Focus rates the Broncos’ offensive line as seventh overall, but Palmer adds only Justin Fields has been pressured more than Wilson. Broncos staffers also believe the pocket has been cleaner than the sack-prone QB’s pattern would depict. Wilson ranks seventh in passer rating but 21st in QBR.

While this adds up to Payton believing the fit between his concepts and Wilson’s strengths — a long-rumored issue after the Broncos acquired the ex-Saints HC — is too clunky, the team (and potentially its GM) will pay the price in the form of the historic dead-money sum.

Paton said upon firing Nathaniel Hackett he believed Wilson was salvageable, and Payton said just before this season the potential Hall of Famer’s skills had not eroded despite his 2022 regression. Wilson partially proved both right, but the Broncos’ offensive performance was not justifying the trade cost or the $49MM-per-year extension. Following the report Wilson wanted Payton to replace Pete Carroll in Seattle, Payton being the one to bench the accomplished QB is rather ironic.

Stidham’s contract contains just $1MM guaranteed for 2024, but after his Raiders run brought one stunningly productive start (a 365-yard, three-TD outing against the 49ers) and one shaky showing (against the Chiefs), the Broncos will see what their backup can bring. Wilson has since tweeted, “Looking forward to what’s next.”

As a head coach, you’ve got to make some tough decisions and they won’t always be right,” Payton said. “They just won’t. You go with your gut and your instincts. We need a spark. We need something right now. We’ll handle the long term when we get there.”

Latest On Broncos’ Deadline Plans; Interest In Jerry Jeudy Cooling?

The Broncos snapped their skid of home losses, holding off the Packers in Week 7. But thanks to the team’s blown leads against the Raiders, Commanders and Jets, it is 2-5 heading into its Chiefs rematch. Already moving on from Frank Clark and Randy Gregory, the Broncos will have more decisions to make soon.

Although Sean Payton‘s team is believed to be open for business, some pushback has come with regards to how far it will go to stockpile draft capital at the midseason point. The Broncos are prepared to listen on anyone — with the possible exception of Patrick Surtain, who is not believed to be available — but are not planning a sell-off, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini notes. Barring big offers,’s Ian Rapoport confirms the team is not on track to be an aggressive seller.

[RELATED: Assessing Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton’s Trade Candidacies]

No team has parted with a higher-profile batch of talent in-season over the past five years than the Broncos, who have moved Demaryius Thomas (2018), Emmanuel Sanders (2019), Von Miller (2021) and Bradley Chubb (2022). And Payton will surely want to recoup some draft capital, especially considering what the franchise needed to give up for him and Russell Wilson. Despite George Paton‘s GM title, Russini confirms Payton will be closely involved in any trade. Considering what the Broncos gave up in terms of compensation and draft capital to land Payton, it has been widely assumed Paton has drifted to second in the personnel hierarchy.

Defensive pieces should be considered more likely to go, per Russini. Denver has a Pro Bowl safety, in Justin Simmons, and veteran linebacker Josey Jewell is in a contract year. None of the Broncos’ post-Gregory/Clark edge rushers are in walk years, however. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones is signed through 2024, though he was added to play in Ejiro Evero‘s defense. Simmons would stand to generate the most interest, given his status as one of the NFL’s best safeties, but Kareem Jackson‘s four-game suspension effectively takes him off the market. The 35-year-old veteran has not played particularly well this season, but his absence — coupled with Caden Sterns‘ season-ending injury in Week 1 — may prompt the Broncos to stand down on Simmons..

More buzz has surrounded Denver’s offensive talent, but the Broncos are not necessarily committed to moving Jerry Jeudy. Although the former first-round pick landed in trade rumors last October and throughout the offseason, he is unlikely to generate an offer close to the level the organization sought. Denver wanted a first-rounder for Jeudy this offseason, but his slow start probably will not lead any team to hand over such a return. Even a second-rounder will probably be difficult to come by, with Denver7’s Troy Renck noting interest has diminished in the talented but inconsistent receiver. While interest remains, Renck mentions a third-rounder as potential compensation. The Broncos drafted Jeudy 15th overall three years ago.

Jeudy’s $12.99MM fifth-year option salary is fully guaranteed; that component has been an issue for teams. Courtland Sutton has fared better this season, and the sixth-year wideout played a lead role in helping the Broncos beat the Packers on Sunday. Sutton, 28, has been viewed as less likely to be traded than Jeudy. But the Broncos still having Jeudy under contract in 2024 gives them time. Sutton is signed through 2025, and with no guarantees on the books beyond this year, flexibility exists in the four-year, $60MM contract.

The Broncos should be expected to make a seller’s trade or two, per Renck, and another loss to the Chiefs would seemingly accelerate a desire to collect a couple of assets. The Broncos also travel to Buffalo after their Week 9 bye. With Simmons, Jeudy and left tackle Garett Bolles signed through 2024, the team will need to weigh its trade chips’ potential future contributions against any offers that come in before the Oct. 31 deadline.

Regarding one of the players the Broncos already jettisoned, Clark remains a free agent. After dangling the ninth-year veteran in trades, the Broncos moved on via release. Payton said Clark grumbled about a lack of playing time, which led to the cut.

Frank was frustrated with the snaps, or lack thereof,’’ Payton said, via the Denver Gazette’s Chris Tomasson. “We brought him in hoping that we could get more from him. In fairness to Frank, I don’t think he ever felt like he was getting enough in a row to play well, and yet, some of the other younger guys were earning those spots.”

Clark, 30, did not have much of a chance to see steady snaps. The Broncos used him as a backup in Week 1, and he missed the next three games due to a groin injury sustained in practice. Clark, who has been linked to a Chiefs reunion, played just 11 defensive snaps in his return to action against the Jets. The Broncos activated Baron Browning off the reserve/PUP list Saturday and teamed him with starters Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto in Week 7.

Broncos ‘Open For Business’ In Trades?

On the whole, the Broncos’ offense has submitted far more competent work compared to a perplexing 2022 season. After finishing last in scoring last season, Denver is 10th through five games. But the defense — a reliable facet for most of the franchise’s post-Peyton Manning years — has faceplanted, ranking last across the board and leading the way in a 1-4 start. Naturally, teams are monitoring the Broncos ahead of the trade deadline.

Denver has made a habit of selling at recent deadlines, unloading Demaryius Thomas (2018), Emmanuel Sanders (2019), Von Miller (2021) and Bradley Chubb (2022). They have already cut bait on Randy Gregory, dealing him to the 49ers. Reports ahead of Week 5 indicated the Broncos were not preparing to be early sellers and that offensive players were not in line to be moved, but after the team dropped another home game, it appears potential buyers believe the retooling squad will be prepared to move assets.

Teams believe Denver will be “open for business” in trades, per Dan Graziano of, who indicates the team is prepared to listen to offers. While recent reports pointed to the Broncos not being ready to unload key offensive pieces, Graziano adds the team is expected to once again listen to offers for Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton along with talent on defense. The Broncos are not interested in trading Patrick Surtain, per Graziano, as the franchise naturally views the All-Pro cornerback as a building block. But Denver supporting-casters are likely to come up frequently in rumors, especially if the team’s losing streak against the Chiefs continues Thursday night.

We’re not looking to do business with any of our players. That doesn’t prevent teams from calling at times, so we just — you pick the phone up, that’s kind of where it’s at,” Sean Payton said, via’s Jeff Legwold. “We’ve got a good handle on this current roster and our vision for the roster a year from now, that’s the part about improving and getting better.”

GM George Paton was at the controls when the team unloaded Miller (for second- and third-round Rams picks) and Chubb (for Dolphins first- and fourth-rounders, with Chase Edmonds included as salary filler). The third-year GM is almost definitely second in command to Payton this year, and with the longtime Saints coach not present when the most of the team’s trade pieces were initially acquired, it is logical to expect the Broncos to strongly consider moving talent before the Oct. 31 deadline. Players are leery of a potential teardown,’s James Palmer notes.

Confirming a weekend report that Frank Clark is likely available, Palmer adds players took notice at the Gregory trade. The Broncos cut an edge rusher who began the season as a starter, agreeing to pay almost all of Gregory’s salary — a tactic they used with Miller to increase trade compensation from the Rams — to convince the 49ers to acquire him. The Broncos accepted a Day 3 pick swap in 2024 for Gregory, who is tied to a five-year, $69.5MM contract. The team will undoubtedly be looking for better returns for other trade chips.

Jeudy and Sutton came up as chips early this offseason, with the Broncos wanting a first-rounder for the former and a second for the latter. The Broncos engaged in “a lot” of conversations about Jeudy and Sutton this offseason, Graziano adds, and the Ravens moved close to acquiring Sutton before their Odell Beckham Jr. signing. Based on the starters’ early-season showings, those asks seem farfetched. Jeudy has totaled 208 receiving yards in four games; Sutton is at 229 in five. Both have submitted better work, but neither has been consistent in Payton’s offense just yet.

Payton’s Saints teams relied on WR1s Marques Colston and Michael Thomas, but his first Broncos squad has spread the ball around. Second-round rookie Marvin Mims leads the team in receiving yards (246), despite being a part-time player on offense. Moving one of the regulars would open the door for Mims, though the Oklahoma-developed deep threat has a clear WR3 window as is. Nevertheless, he has only played 28% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps.

Left tackle Garett Bolles has come up loosely in rumors in the past, including over the weekend, and the Broncos do have swingman Cameron Fleming as insurance. Though, the team experienced rampant O-line health issues last season. Bolles has recovered from the broken leg that ended his 2022 campaign, starting all five games this year. Bolles, 31, is a seventh-year starter who is signed through 2024. Eighth-year safety Justin Simmons turns 30 next month; his $15.25MM-per-year contract runs through 2024. The Pro Bowler is tied to a $14.4MM base salary.

Broncos Not Looking To Be Early Sellers

No team has been a more active seller than the Broncos over the past few years. Denver parted with three of its Super Bowl 50 cornerstones — Demaryius Thomas (2018), Emmanuel Sanders (2019) and Von Miller (2021) — and moved Bradley Chubb last year. The team used the Miller and Chubb picks to form the Russell WilsonSean Payton partnership.

While Wilson is early in the process of bouncing back from a wildly disappointing Broncos debut season, the team started this one 0-3. Denver’s defense, easily its most reliable unit in the years since Peyton Manning‘s retirement, has taken a massive step back. Since 2000, no defense has produced a worst EPA figure since 2000, The Athletic’s Mike Sando notes (subscription required). Even though the Broncos rallied from 21-point deficit to beat the Bears in Week 4, Vance Joseph‘s defense is under a microscope.

Despite this unexpected freefall defensively,’s Ian Rapoport notes the Broncos are not looking to build for the future just yet by becoming an early seller. The team’s status as a true seller figures to hinge on how it performs over the next few weeks. Before the Oct. 31 deadline, the Broncos face the Jets, Packers and will check off both their Chiefs matchups — the second of which, the home tilt — coming two days before the deadline.

The Broncos discussed Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton with teams this offseason, holding out for a first-round pick for Jeudy and a second-rounder for Sutton. No such offers emerged, and the homegrown draftees remain Denver’s top two wideouts. While Marvin Mims has been effective when utilized — to the point the second-rounder is the team’s leading receiver (242 yards) — he has only played 27% of the team’s offensive snaps.

Denver also rosters longtime starters in Justin Simmons and Garett Bolles; both would stand to generate interest. No trade rumors have surfaced around these cornerstones, but if the team struggles this month, players outside of Jeudy and Sutton figure to come up for a team that has shown no hesitation in selling. John Elway dealt Thomas and Sanders, but current GM George Paton was at the wheel when the Miller and Chubb trades transpired.

Wilson’s performance will naturally lead the way in determining if the Broncos want to begin collecting assets for 2024 and beyond. Through four games, the scrutinized QB sits third in the NFL in passer rating, second in touchdown passes (nine) and sixth in yards per attempt (7.7). QBR slots the 2022 trade acquisition 19th, however. While the Wilson-Payton rapport has come up many times as a topic, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini notes the duo are “flourishing” early in their relationship. Wilson has made strides in recovering from a poor fit with Nathaniel Hackett, but if the Broncos’ defense cannot get back on track, the team’s post-deadline nucleus might be worse.

One change that came on defense in Week 4 involved Randy Gregory, whom the team benched in Week 4, as Denver7’s Troy Renck observes. Through four games, Pro Football Focus ranks Gregory as a bottom-10 edge defender. Although Denver’s defense as a whole endured one of the worst showings in NFL history, as the Dolphins became the first team since 1966 to score 70 points, Gregory received some punishment in the wake of the rout. The Broncos benched Gregory despite having Baron Browning on their reserve/PUP list. The team gave Gregory a five-year, $70MM deal in 2022 but saw him miss much of last season due to a knee injury. Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper served as the Broncos’ first-string edges in Chicago.

Sean Payton: Russell Wilson Still Has It

Being one of last season’s most disappointing teams, the Broncos launched another reboot by obtaining Sean Payton’s rights from the Saints. Payton, however, will be tasked with coaching Russell Wilson and working with holdover GM George Paton. But the longtime Saints coach can certainly be viewed as the centerpiece presence in Denver.

As such, Payton fired off some strong stances in an interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. Among the people taken to task by the Super Bowl-winning HC: predecessor Nathaniel Hackett. This Broncos season will do plenty to determine which 2022 pillar was more at fault for the Broncos’ woes last season; Payton is placing considerably more blame on Hackett than Wilson.

Everybody’s got a little stink on their hands; it’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was,” Payton said, via Bell.

“… I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball.”

This is not the first time Payton has said the team’s 2022 mess was not entirely on Wilson. The Broncos’ Pat ShurmurTeddy Bridgewater offensive setup finished 23rd in scoring offense; the Hackett-Wilson pairing sunk it to last. The team gave Wilson a private office and allowed his personal team facility access. While noting QB offices are not out of the ordinary, Payton reiterated he shut down Team Wilson staffers’ facility access.

Perhaps most importantly, the Broncos gave Wilson autonomy in designing the offense last year. Although injuries to the likes of Garett Bolles, Javonte Williams, Tim Patrick and others led to the quarterback’s stunning nosedive, Wilson’s effort to play more from the pocket produced prolonged periods of stagnancy as the Broncos stumbled to a 3-10 start. Paton forced Hackett to bring Jerry Rosburg out of retirement to manage games after glaring managerial snafus transpired during the Broncos’ first two contests, and the GM ended up firing the first-time HC after a blowout Christmas Day loss to the Rams. Hackett, who gave up play-calling duties midway through his short tenure, is one of just three coaches since the 1970 merger to be fired before their first season concluded.

Wilson, 34, still took the brunt of the criticism, having been traded for a picks package headlined by two first-rounders and two seconds. He finished with a career-low 16 touchdown passes, and after closing his Seahawks tenure with QBR rankings of 10th, 11th, fifth, eighth and 10th from 2017-21, the perennial Pro Bowler dropped to 27th in his first Broncos campaign.

That wasn’t his fault,” Payton said of Wilson’s facility setup. “That was the parents who allowed it. That’s not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the GM, the president (Damani Leech) and everybody else who watched it all happen. Now, a quarterback having an office and a place to watch film is normal. But all those things get magnified when you’re losing. And that other stuff, I’ve never heard of it. We’re not doing that.

“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed. And that happened here.”

It is certainly interesting Payton mentioned Paton, whose job security took a hit after the Hackett-Wilson pairing produced a spectacular letdown. Payton has been connected to potentially bringing in more familiar front office personnel. This could loom as an important season for the Broncos’ GM, given the events of the past year.

Wilson’s five-year, $245MM extension runs through 2028. His cap number jumps from $22MM to $35.4MM between 2023 and ’24. The Broncos can escape this contract with a $35.4MM dead-money charge in 2024 with a post-June 1 cut designation — though, that would be an extreme move, considering dead money would come in 2025 as well — should the form Wilson showed in 2022 represent a true decline rather than a coaching-induced blip.

Payton has praised offseason pickup Jarrett Stidham, who signed a two-year, $10MM deal. But the team remains committed to Wilson, who will have Williams, Patrick and Bolles back, along with big-ticket O-line pickups Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers in the mix. After eyeing a partnership with Payton in the past, Wilson has a clear bounce-back opportunity.

Broncos Eyeing Altered Role For TE Greg Dulcich

Expectations are high for the Broncos offense heading into 2023, with head coach Sean Payton now at the helm. One of the key factors in the team’s ability to rebound from a highly disappointing performance on that side of the ball last season is the way in which Payton’s scheme will alter the workload of the unit’s main contributors.

[RELATED: Reviewing Broncos’ Offseason]

One of those is tight end Greg Dulcich, who came to the Miles High City last season after a productive final two seasons at UCLA. The third-rounder flashed potential with 33 receptions for 411 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but his rookie campaign was limited to 10 games due to a nagging hamstring issue.

In 2023, Dulcich could see not only an expanded workload but also a new job description. The 23-year-old was recently named by Payton as a candidate to play the ‘joker’ role, as detailed by Troy Renck of Denver7. That moniker is one which involves heavy usage in the passing game for a position which, in Dulcich’s case, typically calls for considerable usage as a run blocker.

“The joker player for us is not a receiver,” Payton elaborated, via ESPN’s Jeff Legwold“It’s either a running back or a tight end with exceptional ball skills and then you can work matchups. We’ve had that at the running back spot, Reggie Bush was the joker, Darren Sproles and Alvin Kamara. Those were all unique players, not just in the running game, but they had passing game skill sets that allowed you to do multiple things, and I think Greg does too.”

Dulcich’s skillset is indeed built more on proficiency as a pass-catcher than strength in the run game, making him a logical candidate for the transition. Denver also has free agent signing Chris Manhertz, trade acquisition Adam Trautman and 2020 fourth-rounder Albert Okwuegbunam on the depth chart at the TE spot. That trio could be well-suited to provide the Broncos with capable play while attempting to maximize the potential Dulcich has as a Swiss Army knife type in Year 2. It will be interesting to watch how he is deployed in training camp and the preseason in advance of a campaign where the team will be under considerable scrutiny.