Just two weeks remain for the Denver Broncos in their 2023-2024 campaign. Will how they finish these next two weeks set the tone for the offseason? Broncos Country sent in their mailbag questions as the New Year approaches.

Denver Broncos Week 17 Mailbag Series

What is Sean Payton’s vision after benching Russell Wilson? – Peter G. 

Today’s news was a little bit of a shocker, Peter. In my Christmas Day article, I threw out the possibility that Denver could potentially start Jarrett Stidham for the final two weeks. Now that it has become a reality, Sean Payton’s vision is currently unknown. Wednesday’s practice had a very quiet and sullen mood to it when we were able to observe. For Payton to make this decision right now, even with the smallest percentage-based change they make the post-season, it signals that he’s waiving the white flag. Now, if Denver moves on from Wilson this off-season, there are larger questions surrounding the team about what they decide to do at the position going forward. Will he roll with Stidham for a season and draft a quarterback to develop? That seems like a possible scenario, but moving on from Wilson signals a bigger issue with Denver and Payton’s belief in being able to make it work. Now, if that’s the reality, Payton will be largely responsible for finding the solution at quarterback, and until that solution is firmly established, I’m afraid the quarterback carousel graphic is going to return to a broadcast near you.

With the NFL Playoffs essentially off the table for the Broncos, what are you looking forward to seeing in these final two weeks? – James P.

Happy New Year, James; thanks for the question. Obviously, it’s disappointing that playoffs are extremely unlikely after Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, but Denver still needs to remain focused on finishing with an above .500 record. Sean Payton expressed frustration and disappointment for how Denver has played the past two weeks, and with the Chargers coming to town, it will be another test for them. Despite the embarrassing month the Chargers have had, they took the Bills to the limit last week, encapsulating how week-to-week this league truly is. I’d personally like to see Denver finish the season 9-8. Even if they don’t, this team has taken the necessary steps in the right direction, especially after their 1-5 start. What they’ve been able to achieve this season, despite how ugly it was at times, is a big sign of growth. I predict that this offseason will be crazy for the Broncos, and we’ll see a variety of different changes, but finishing this season on a strong note is important to Payton and a lot of the players in the locker room. We need to see the offense perform better, plain and simple. The lack of run game lately has hurt them, and there has been regression from the offense as of late.

What adjustments should the offensive line or coordinator make to give Russell Wilson more time to throw? And please, no more wide receiver screens. – Andrew Livingston.

Thanks for the question, Andrew. I think we can all agree that the wide receiver screen is a play that has to disappear from Payton’s playbook going forward. It’s become one of the most ineffective plays for the Broncos specifically over the years, which is frustrating because we consistently see other teams around the league execute it well. To me, one of the most frustrating aspects about this offense is that they make the simple things look so difficult at times. The lack of a quick passing game from Payton is something that has hurt Denver’s offense. Last year, Jerry Rosburg and Justin Outten created simple plans to get the ball out of Russ’s hands quickly in the final two games and we saw Denver’s offense have success because of it. This year, there hasn’t really been that presence on a consistent basis. Payton did make a great point, though, in his Tuesday conference call with us that there are times when the pocket is clean, and Russ has to make plays when that happens, but it’s also true that the pocket has been very messy on a consistent basis. From my observation this season, so many of Denver’s route concepts have taken more time to develop to scheme guys open and when pressure is inconsistent or if the quarterback leaves the pocket, everything changes from a timing standpoint. If the Broncos could embrace a quick passing style of offense in these final two weeks, we might be able to see some better production from them overall.

With the Broncos releasing Kareem Jackson and him returning to Houston, what is the outlook of the safety position beyond this year? – Cameron G.

This is a great question, Cameron. First off, I want to take some time to say thank you to Kareem for all he’s contributed to Denver on the field, but more importantly, for everything he’s done off the field. From hosting kids for Christmas shopping sprees, Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaways, and youth football camps, he’s done so much for Denver. On top of that, his presence inside the locker room is going to be missed by so many of the players in there, especially the defensive backs. I believe this will be Kareem’s final season, and he’ll get a chance to potentially play in the playoffs for the team that drafted him. For the final two games, the Broncos will roll with Justin Simmons and P.J. Locke. Locke, in my opinion, should be Denver’s starter next season, but with his emergence this year, he’s set to become a free agent, and there will be a handful of teams that will likely express interest in him. While he loves it in Denver, I wouldn’t be shocked if he tests the market. If he returns, he and Justin will be the one-two punch at the position, but the depth behind them is concerning to me. Delarrin Turner-Yell has had some trial-by-fire moments this season and has had some up-and-down performances, but I feel like he’s going to benefit from that experience. Behind him is JL Skinner, who hasn’t been able to carve out a role for himself on special teams, which has been disappointing. However, it’s unclear if that’s an indication of him or if the coaching staff wants to use this year as a red-shirt season. Regardless, Denver can’t head into the offseason banking on Justin Simmons and P.J. Locke alone; they need to add experienced depth to the position behind those guys, competing with Turner-Yell and Skinner in training camp.

Have the Russell Wilson haters forgotten about the lean years at quarterback prior to him? Some of that play was brutal. In your estimation, does Wilson return next year or not? – Ed Helinski.

I always appreciate your questions, Ed. The quarterback carousel is something I hope Broncos fans never forget. That time period is one of the most embarrassing periods in modern history for this franchise. The frustrating thing about the discourse surrounding Russell Wilson is that many fans and even some media members are quick to place all of the blame on Wilson himself. In my story earlier this week, I touched on the fact that while Russ shares accountability for some of the struggles, not all of it is entirely on him. Payton was brought in to design a scheme around him that plays to what he has excelled at, and when Russ has gotten off schedule, good things have happened. I’ve had my gripes about the lack of intermediate passing game or even simple routes like slants, curls, hitches, or drags have been very minimal in terms of designed emphasis this year. Plus, this was the first season of Wilson in Payton’s design. So much of this will be contingent upon how Payton himself feels and whether or not he thinks that the dynamic between him and Wilson can take the next step forward next season. At times this year, Payton has given off a non-committal vibe to Wilson, which has certainly put things into question. To answer your question, if the team asks Russ to restructure even after the benching, and he does, I can see him returning. If he does not, I see the team eating the $39M and moving on from him. How they address the position, if they do move on, is beyond me and does put into question whether or not Denver can get back into being a winning team in this current window they have.