PHOENIX — While the Broncos' aggressiveness in free agency made headlines and garnered national attention, it came as no surprise to those inside the organization.
With just five picks in the 2023 NFL Draft — and their first selection — coming early in the third round, the Broncos knew they would need to rely on free agency in 2023.
It was a reality that began with the Broncos' 2022 trade for Russell Wilson, which dealt a pair of first- and second-round picks to Seattle. Following the hire of Head Coach Sean Payton, he and General Manager George Paton helped develop a plan that would allow the Broncos to address key roster needs.
"Going back to when we made the trade for Russ, we knew one of these years we'd have to be aggressive," Paton said Monday at the NFL's Annual Meeting. "Then when we got Sean here and we met, if there were players there at positions of need, we were going to be aggressive. We don't have the picks; we only have five picks. We were aggressive and we had a plan, and I felt like we executed that plan."
The Broncos' ideal path in free agency would not have been possible, according to Paton, without the support of the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group. Paton said he and Payton met with Owner/CEO Greg Penner and Owner Carrie Walton Penner ahead of free agency to review their approach, and they helped the team achieve their goals.
"They've been unbelievable," Paton said. "Really supportive. Since they arrived, they've given us all the resources to do whatever we need to do, specifically with free agency. Sean and I, we visited with them and kind of showed them the plan and they were all on board. Like I said, I thought we executed the plan."
In all, the Broncos have signed or re-signed 14 players since the start of free agency, including big-ticket additions like Mike McGlinchey, Ben Powers and Zach Allen.
"Playing against Sean's teams in New Orleans, they always kind of build the inside, and they're always strong on the lines, in the trenches, offense and defense," Paton said. "We wanted to mold [ourselves after] that."
The Broncos' plan to upgrade their roster, though, doesn't stop with free agency. While their aggressive plan stemmed from the lack of draft picks, Denver still must make the most of a set of selections that includes two third-round picks.
Paton said it was unlikely the Broncos would move up in the draft from No. 67, noting it's more probable they'll trade back to accrue more selections.
"We certainly have to make some hay [with] those top third[-round picks] and really all the picks," Paton said. "We only have five. Really since free agency finished, Sean, myself and a couple of our scouts, we've sat in a dark room and we've hit the draft. I didn't go to any pro days and we just focused on the draft and specifically those top [third-round picks].
"We're really going to have to make hay."
Paton and the Broncos remain unsure whether Javonte Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Raiders in Week 4, will be available for the start of the 2023 season.
"He has a long way to go," Paton said. "He's made great strides, but I think we won't know that for a while."
BONITTO IN YEAR 2
As the Broncos focus on their 2023 draft picks, their first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft will look to take a jump in his second season.
Former second-round pick Nik Bonitto appeared in 15 games as a rookie and recorded 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and three quarterback hits.
"A lot of these guys make that step in Year 2, and Nik just needs to get stronger," Paton said. "Needs to get stronger vs. the run game. He has natural pass rush, which we all know. Just continue getting stronger, develop his craft — and I think he will."
Bonitto is part of a pass-rush group that includes players like Randy Gregory and Baron Browning.