DENVER — It never gets any easier.
As the Broncos approach the league-mandated deadline to trim the active roster to 53 players, Head Coach Sean Payton said the process is always a challenge.
"It's always difficult this time of year," Payton said following the Broncos' preseason finale. "That hadn't changed in 16 years for me. I typically meet with every player."
Payton said the difficulty in making roster decisions is to both keep the correct players and not let potential future contributors walk out the door.
"The dream for so many of these guys is still alive, even if it's not here." Payton said. "The thing that keeps — I don't want to say us up at night — but [it's about] making sure we find the right 53. You don't want to lose a player when you had control over it and then have him have success somewhere else."
During Saturday's 41-0 win over the Rams, a slew of players only made Payton and General Manager George Paton's job even more difficult. As the starters sat out the game, many reserve players saw extended action that offered a final audition.
"To credit the players, a lot of guys will make this challenging with their efforts tonight, during the week, really, and even last week," Payton said. "It's always difficult."
Payton said the Broncos have begun to discuss their 53-man roster and will "keep meeting on it" ahead of Tuesday's 2 p.m. MT deadline. Following the formation of the initial 53-man roster, Denver will then put together its 16-player practice squad. And as Payton explained Saturday, he views the practice squad as an extension of the roster.
"I think what's important when you're talking about practice squad players is, 'Are they developmental? Are they guys that you feel like have an upside curve to it?'" Payton said. "Coaches, all of us in general, can be very protective and say this can be a perfect practice squad player. Well, he's not if you can't see an upside to be a 53[-man roster] player. And with the rules the way they are now, there's so much more flexibility. I know it's 53 and 16, but I look at it much differently, I look at it as that's the entire roster.
"… I think there's got to be a clean and correct vision for a practice squad player. And I think that you're gathering all the information, but every team this year will have players coming off that 16 [player practice squad] up and playing significant roles."
Payton also acknowledged that even after the initial roster and practice squad is determined, it can be "very noisy" with continued roster moves over the first couple of weeks of the season.
"It isn't until Week 3 that the transaction numbers in our league become very consistent," Payton said.
Those continued moves could happen, in part, because of the Broncos' high standing in the waiver order. Denver will have the fifth-highest priority when teams submit claims following a slew of transactions around the league early this week.
"We're evaluating everyone else's cuts," Payton said. "We claim fifth [to start] this year, which is high and it's a good spot to be in. You don't want to be in that spot, but that's what it is."
And while Payton said he feels "better tonight about our depth than I did a week ago or two weeks ago," a roster is never truly a finished product.
"You're constantly paying attention to the back 15 [to] 10 spots of your roster," Payton said. "I'm encouraged [about the depth], and yet there's some areas that we've got some hot-spot areas, position-wise.
"… That's what you think about as a coach: Where … in this roster cut down might we find players that can help this team?"