The new league year hasn’t even officially begun, and everybody is anticipating what the Denver Broncos’ plan will be this offseason as the team navigates uncertain waters. There are several big questions surrounding Broncos GM George Paton this offseason, including what he and Sean Payton plan to do to put the team on a forward trajectory.

How will the Denver Broncos brain trust of George Paton and Sean Payton attack NFL Free Agency?

This will be one of the first dominoes to fall for the Broncos, as free agency inches closer to March 13th at 2:00 p.m. MT. Last year, Payton and Paton made splash moves by signing offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey to a five-year deal and lineman Ben Powers to replace Dalton Risner at left guard.

They also signed quarterback Jarrett Stidham to be the team’s backup as one of their first moves before rounding things out by signing defensive end Zach Allen to replace Dre’Mont Jones. Those were all of Denver’s biggest moves last year.

Brace yourself, Broncos Country; it’s unlikely that Denver will make any splash moves like that in the first wave of this year’s free agency period. Paton has already expressed that Denver won’t be as active during the first wave, indicating that they’ll more than likely find themselves unable to, due to the likely release of quarterback Russell Wilson likely going into effect on March 13th.

“This would be extreme,” Paton said regarding the unprecedented potential cap ramifications of a Wilson release. “We’ve prepared for any scenario with [Vice President of Football Administration] Rich Hurtado, who runs our [salary] cap. We’ll have flexibility either way to do what we need to do. We won’t be in on the first wave of free agency, like we were last year. You can’t do that every year. We’ll be very strategic and very specific on what positions and what players we try to sign. Obviously, we have to hit on the draft. We’re picking high, and we have six picks. We could have more; you know we like picks. We’ll go from there.”

Perhaps the Broncos could take a page out of the Houston Texans’ book for the past two seasons, where they signed a laundry list of role players to one-year deals instead of going out and signing big-name free agents. Before Denver can do that, they’ve got to make in-house decisions regarding whether or not they’ll bring back free agents like safety P.J. Locke, linebacker Josey Jewell, tight end Adam Trautman, and fullback Michael Burton.

Free agency is one of the most appealing off-season events, but Broncos fans should brace themselves for it being uneventful until the second to third wave of it.

Will Payton and Paton align on a quarterback?

This is a question that has been floated out and discussed plenty by Broncos fans on social media and various forums. I think the team’s end-of-the-year press conference finally showcased that Payton and Paton are both heavily aligned when it comes to building next season’s roster.

Payton values Paton’s scouting background, and the two have an extremely good working relationship where they speak three to four times per day. Both report directly to team CEO Greg Penner.

Both parties seem to agree on what to do at the quarterback position, although none of us will know for certain until they make an official move. There are veteran options available in free agency that Denver could take a look at with some names, including Kirk Cousins (unlikely), Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota, Sam Darnold, Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston (who played for Payton in New Orleans), and a handful of other stop-gap options.

If Denver chooses to go the stop-gap option, I wouldn’t rule out them still drafting a player at 12th overall and having a rookie quarterback sit and learn for one season. Payton has four years left on his current contract, so the optics of it are interesting from a timing standpoint.

On the other hand, if Denver decides to go all in on the NFL Draft with the quarterback position, that player should start right away as a rookie in 2024 to get the valuable on-field experience necessary.

Regardless of what happens, both Paton and Payton will be on the same page for the decision itself.

“I do,” Paton said, regarding whether or not he knows the traits of what Payton likes in a signal-caller. “Quarterback is a little different, but I do know what Sean is looking for in a quarterback. We’ll see.”

Can Paton continue the upward trend of hitting on draft picks?

For as much flack as Paton has received about the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, the Russell Wilson trade and the signing of Randy Gregory, he deserves as much back in praise for his draft picks.

Obviously, his first draft was headlined by Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain, who has been an incredible asset to the roster. Behind him were running back Javonte Williams, guard Quinn Meinerz, linebacker Baron Browning, safeties Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson, wide receiver Seth Williams, cornerback Kary Vincent Jr., linebacker Jonathon Cooper, and defensive endMarquiss Spencer.

Currently, five of those ten picks are starters for Denver right now, and Sterns could be the sixth this upcoming season. Johnson, Williams, Vincent Jr. and Spencer are no longer on the roster. In today’s NFL, it’s hard to have ten picks, with most of them still remaining on the roster years later.

The 2022 NFL Draft was interesting, because Denver didn’t possess an initial first and second-round pick and only had a late second-round pick from the Von Miller trade to the Los Angeles Rams.

Pass-rusher Nik Bonitto has emerged as one of Denver’s most talented younger players, and could be a potential rising star going forward.

Tight end Greg Dulcich has proven to be an impact player when healthy, although that’s been a frustrating development for him. Health aside, he’s been a good pickup when on the field.

Cornerback Damarri Mathis had an off-year in 2023 after a strong rookie season. He’ll be back in the mix to compete for the starting job on the outside with 2023 third-rounder Riley Moss.

Defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike was a player the team had high hopes for as a rotational defensive lineman, but his own actions led to him being suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell saw his first NFL action as a starter in several games this past season, where he experienced some highs and lows, but what stood out even more was his overall impact as one of the team’s best special teams players. Unfortunately, Turner-Yell won’t likely be ready for the start of 2024 as he prepares to undergo surgery soon on a torn ACL.

Receiver/returner Montrell Washington was a promising rookie return option in 2022, but fizzled out quickly and ended up being released in the preseason.

Late-round picks Luke Wattenberg, an offensive lineman, and defensive lineman Matt Henningsen are still on Denver’s roster going into 2024. Wattenberg is considered internally as Denver’s next best swing option – he can play center and guard – and Henningsen played a rotational role this past season on defense. Seventh-round defensive back Faion Hicks didn’t make the roster in 2023.

Payton’s first draft class with Paton saw them take receiver/returner Marvin Mims, rangy linebacker Drew Sanders, Moss, D-back JL Skinner, and center Alex Forsyth. Moss became one of the Broncos’ best special teams players as a gunner, and rotated in on Denver’s dime package.

Sanders made the switch from off-ball linebacker to edge rusher, and flashed defensively while also becoming a key contributor on special teams. Mims was elected to the Pro Bowl and received second-team honors in the AP’s All-Pro voting as a return option. Skinner and Forsyth were the only two rookies this season who the Broncos red-shirted.

Forsyth was recognized several times this year as a scout team player of the week, and could find himself as the starter at center this offseason if free agent Lloyd Cushenberry III departs, and Skinner continued to develop during practice, with plans for him to take on more of a role next season – whether that be on special teams or defense.

“I think it was a really good rookie class,” Paton reflected on the 2023 class. “You didn’t see it on Sundays all the time, but we saw it in practice. Marvin Mims had a Pro Bowl year as a returner. [He’s a] work in progress as a receiver, but he had some really big moments. Riley Moss, we feel, is a starter in this league. He was one of our best special teams players, if not the best. We saw it in practice. We saw the cover skills, and we saw the transition quickness, toughness and instincts. You saw it a little bit in game. He played a little bit of the dime role. Drew Sanders – same. Big upside. He played inside, and he played outside. He started to come on late in year, and he was really good on special teams. I’ll probably leave someone out – JL Skinner. He got an opportunity this past week and excelled on teams. We saw it in practice – the range, the physicality. [He was] Scout Team Player of the Week multiple times. Alex [Forsyth]—we feel he’s a starter in this league at center. Then, you look at the college free agent class—[running back] Jaleel McLaughlin, [tight end] Nate Adkins. There are a number of others that we feel can play. ‘J-Mac’ (cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian), who in his first year got to play in the last game, grew the entire offseason. When he got his chance, he excelled. We feel there are a number of players in this class that can make that jump as well.”

Paton deserves grace from the fanbase about how he’s managed the NFL Draft and, more importantly, obtaining players who are playing a pivotal role and have shown continued development. With six picks in 2024, Denver has a chance to stay put with that number of picks, or they could look to acquire more.

March and April will be a busy time for Denver’s fourth-year general manager, and he and Payton have a chance to put the team onto a better forward trajectory if they can nail several challenging moves this offseason.