New uniforms, Russell Wilson fallout and more Broncos takeaways from NFL meetings


ORLANDO, Fla. — The Broncos may not yet know who their starting quarterback will be in 2024, but they do know he’ll be the first passer to wear the team’s new uniforms.

The organization will unveil a “full redesign” of their uniforms in the coming weeks, team president Damani Leech said at the NFL league meetings here Monday. The Broncos teased the upcoming release on social media earlier in the day, but the post provided few clues. The current logo and orange-and-blue color scheme will remain, Leech said, but there will otherwise be new elements with a redesign that is more than a year in the making.

“Part of the process that we went through was talking about what’s important to the Broncos, what’s important to the Broncos fan base,” Leech said, noting the team solicited opinions from 10,000 through email surveys ahead of the design process. “Wanting to evolve and be new and different, but also being respectful of our history and traditions, understanding our surroundings from a geographic standpoint. There will be nods to that I think people will be really excited about.”

Owner Greg Penner said the uniform will include “elements of Colorado,” leaving fans to speculate on social media that the jerseys will include a mountain design in some fashion.

“It’s time for a change,” Penner said. “We think we’ll have something that honors Broncos Country and our fans will be pleased with. … It was an interesting process that Carrie (Walton Penner) was deeply involved with, (as) I was, coaches, some of our players. So we got a lot of feedback, also from the fans, and I think we’re going to have something we’ll be excited about.”

Leech said he and other executives with the Broncos made a trip to Nike’s headquarters in Oregon as part of a process that began in January of 2023, just months after the new ownership group took over the team.

“They take you through a design vision process,” Leech said. “What’s important to you? What are you trying to accomplish? On a scale of 1-10, how much change are you looking for? A bunch of different things and then you start iterating and iterating and iterating.”

The Broncos did not provide an exact date for the uniform’s release, but Leech’s timeline suggests that event will occur before the NFL Draft in late April.

Here are other takeaways after availabilities Monday with Penner, Leech, head coach Sean Payton and general manager George Paton:

The league meetings offered the first chance for the Broncos to comment publicly about their decision earlier this month to release quarterback Russell Wilson, a move that created a record $85 million dead-money hit that will be spread over the next two seasons. Wilson signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers when free agency began — the Broncos will still pay the bulk of his $39 million salary — and left the Broncos to assess the fallout of an era that was a disaster by almost any measure.

Broncos general manager George Paton said he is “accountable” for how Wilson’s stint in Denver ultimately played out.

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“We took a shot on a quarterback who had a lot of success in this league,” said Paton, who orchestrated the 2022 trade that brought Wilson and a fourth-round pick to Denver and sent five draft picks and three players to Seattle. “(He has) nine Pro Bowls and won the most games in his first 10 years in the league. It wasn’t just Russ. There were a lot of contributing factors to why we didn’t win. At the end of the day, we didn’t play good enough offense, and we didn’t win enough games. I’m accountable for that. I’ll just leave it at that. No one tried harder than Russ to make this work, and we appreciate the effort and professionalism that he showed. Total pro. I wish him the best in Pittsburgh. He’s going to a good team and just wish him the best.”

The Broncos decided to boot the larger portion of Wilson’s dead money ($53 million) on its 2024 ledger. Paton said the decision was made to create “the most flexibility to be competitive and win now and in the future.” But “taking the medicine” this year, as Payton described it, also meant the Broncos had to make other difficult decisions with the roster. The coach suggested the move to release Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons, for example — one that created $14.5 million in cap space — was influenced, at least in part, by the need to create additional room for the Wilson hit.

“Relative to taking on $53 million … I can probably reference that for a few more of these questions (about personnel decisions),” Payton said.

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Four-time second-team All-Pro safety Justin Simmons was released as part of the Broncos’ efforts to clear up salary cap space. (Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)

The Broncos’ owner, general manager and coach all said they wish Wilson well as he continues his career with the Steelers, a team Denver will host this season. They have already done the painstaking work of figuring out how to fit the release into their overall team-building plans. The focus now is on finding Wilson’s replacement.

“They took a shot at really upgrading ourselves at that position, but it just didn’t work out for whatever reasons,” Penner said. “We made the tough decision to move on.”

Addressing the 2024 outlook

The Broncos finished 8-9 last season. Underwhelming as that record appears, it qualified as Denver’s best winning percentage since 2016. It also represented a three-win improvement over 2022. Still, a leap forward from there has been hard for fans to see given how the offseason has played out for the Broncos. In addition to releasing Wilson and Simmons, the team did not re-sign key starters like inside linebacker Josey Jewell and center Lloyd Cushenberry, and it traded wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, the 2020 first-round pick, to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth- and sixth-round pick. The Broncos have made four modest signings in free agency, but the offseason has been more about the players who have left the team than the ones who have joined.

Payton understands the moves have led to a belief the team has entered a full rebuild mode, but he pushed back on that notion Monday.

“I get that. In our league, you regroup and you get ready to play,” he said. “We’re still in the midst of assembling our roster. If you paid attention to that, there are a ton of different seasons — and I’ve been a part of it — that never would have had the success we had relative to the expectations. We have to get better in a lot of areas and we’re excited to do that.”

Added Penner: “We’re passionate about being competitive. That’s both in the short-term and the long-term. You can call it whatever you want, but our focus is on putting the best possible team on the field this coming year. I don’t think there are any shortcuts or quick fixes. So we’re going to do this in the right way and have this team be competitive this coming season, but also be in position to build for the future.”

Penner also noted that spending more strategically in free agency this offseason reflects how he wants the team to be constituted. The Broncos handed out more guaranteed money in free agency last year than any team in the NFL, and much of that came on the first day of that period. It was a unique situation, Penner said, because the Broncos had limited draft capital and there were free agents they could target who would fill short- and long-term needs.

“We knew going in this go-around that we weren’t going to take the same approach,” the owner said. “I’ve been impressed with Sean and George; they’ve been very measured and strategic. Our approach is going to be, long-term, to build the roster through the draft and then be opportunistic with free agency and trades and strike when we’re in a good place to do that. But we’re not going to be aggressive every year like you were last year.”

Free-agency notes

Part of the free-agency approach included the “tough” decision to let Cushenberry leave. He signed a massive contract with the Tennessee Titans that could pay him an average of $12.5 million across the next four seasons. While the Broncos signed replacements for other players who have moved on — Brandon Jones for Simmons at safety; Cody Barton for Jewell at inside linebacker — they have not signed a veteran to take over for Cushenberry.

That’s largely because of how the team feels about Alex Forsyth and Luke Wattenberg, who are entering their second and third NFL seasons, respectively.

“If not for either of those two, or both in the building, there’s a chance maybe we would have moved in the direction of extending ourselves (with Cushenberry), if you will,” Payton said. “But those are the two candidates today as we sit here that will have a good opportunity to win that job.”

• Payton on Jones, the safety who signed a three-year deal after playing his first four seasons with the Dolphins: “We felt like we had a really good sample size relative to the snaps that we evaluated. His role for us, we see him as a safety. There will be some flexibility with him, P.J. (Locke) and certainly the other guys competing in that room — Caden (Sterns), who’s been injured. The flexibility of playing right and left, maybe more so than designated as strong or free, that was important.”

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• Payton on Malcolm Roach, the free-agent addition at defensive tackle he previously coached in New Orleans: “Malcolm made that (Saints) team undrafted. He’s tough, he’s hard-nosed, and he’s a guy that gives you a little bit of position flex. He can play the nose and he can move over to play the three-technique. You see him playing across the front. I think that until this year — really the last part of the season — he’s been a healthy guy that can give you 35 to 40 snaps a game. He’s got great makeup, he’s smart and he’s tough.”

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Malcolm Roach is reunited with Sean Payton in Denver after playing for him with the Saints. (Stephen Lew / USA Today)

Rookie starter?

The Broncos could have a rookie quarterback on their roster this season. Payton said moving up in the draft to select one of the draft’s top prospects is a “realistic” option. But would that player start from the jump?

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“Is it better to sit behind a starter or get thrown into the fire?” Payton said when asked for his impressions of how Jordan Love played last season as a starter following three years backing up Aaron Rodgers. “If you have a (Brett) Favre and you draft a Rodgers, or if you have somebody at the front of that line that is special, that’s invaluable. … There’s an education beyond just the head coach and the coordinator and the quarterback coach. There’s this model of, ‘Hey, this is how the week goes.’ There are times when you don’t have that luxury and we’ve seen that with Peyton (Manning) and then it’s, ‘Hey, it’s time to go. You’re going to be the model.’ It would be easier said than done to say, ‘Well, I can control that,’ but I think it really works in the case of what they had in Green Bay relative to Favre to Rodgers, and then Rodgers to Love, because there’s kind of a template.”

The current quarterbacks on Denver’s roster, Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci, have five career starts between them. In other words, if the Broncos draft a quarterback in the first round, he may be destined to serve as his own model.

(Photo: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)





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