PHOENIX — At the NFL's Annual Meeting, Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton reaffirmed Denver's commitment to wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton.
Payton confirmed that other teams have called to acquire about the availability of the two players, but he emphasized that "it's not something we're interested in doing."
The Broncos' new head coach said his arrival in Denver and the perceived lack of depth at wide receiver in the draft has led to speculation about wide receivers across the league.
"It'll continue, I'm sure, as we get closer to the draft," Payton said Monday at the AFC Coaches Breakfast. "If you really look at the draft and you look at the receiver depth in the draft, it's not a real deep draft. If you're a team that's looking for receivers, we're not the only team people called. I'm sure Houston with Brandin Cooks, other players like that. It's pretty common in the offseason, I think."
Payton said while the wide receiving corps was not healthy a year ago, he likes the position group.
"I like the receiver depth," Payton said. "We'll continue to look at [that]. We're not a team that's going to be, this is the X, this is the Z and this is our sub, slot receiver. That's just not going to be us. If you ever followed what we did in New Orleans, that was never us."
Read on for more takeaways from Payton's lengthy media availability.
Unlike a year ago, when the Broncos played hardly any starters in the three preseason games, Payton said the Broncos will use the time to their advantage.
"We're going to play all of them," Payton said. "In the preseason? Absolutely we are. Absolutely we are. That's the preseason."
Payton also suggested that the team's general practice philosophy would also be different.
"There wasn't any 9-on-7, one-on-ones [last season]," Payton said. "The approach was much different than I'm used to."
ALONG THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Payton previously spoke to DenverBroncos.com about the "musts" that were on the Broncos' free-agency to-do list, and adding or retaining a defensive lineman was among those items.
The Broncos signed Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen, who played the last four seasons for new Denver Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph.
"Effort," Payton said of what stood out about Allen. "Energy. We loved how he improved in this past season. Obviously Vance has been with him. So when you're in free agency and you have a little bit more intimate knowledge of the player, it's important. It's really important."
Payton said the Broncos had interest in retaining Dre'Mont Jones "early in the season," but he noted the difficulty of keeping Jones in Denver.
"I guess during the year there was an offer made," Payton said. "In the end, it's pretty difficult. It's a week before prom and you're trying to figure out if Sally Sue's going to go with you. If not, you have to have [a problem]. And so this goes back and forth. I'm happy that Dre'Mont found a great spot. ... Obviously one of the musts was Dre'Mont and-or that position. We didn't feel like it was [a] deep [position]."
While the Broncos' major moves on offense came along the offensive line, Denver also signed a pair of important players in running back Samaje Perine and quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
"I see position flex[ibility]," Payton said of Perine. "If you really watch Perine, study the tape, you see him on early downs, you see him playing on third downs. He's a really good receiver. And obviously he can block the blitz. He's big, he's physical, he's smart, he's tough. He's kind of built to last, and so that was an important piece for us, knowing the injury [to Javonte Williams] that we're dealing with. And so he was really important."
Payton said the Broncos placed a focus on improving the team's running game in free agency.
Stidham, meanwhile, was "a priority" for the Broncos when free agency began.
"I think he's young, but I think he's someone we had a good [draft] grade on coming out," Payton said. "We like the player. I think he played well in the two starts he had this year. If you study closely the San Francisco game [in Week 17], he's smart at the line of scrimmage. And so there were a couple of directions really with that position — there were a handful of No. 2's that either I'd worked with or we felt comfortable with. But in this case, I think it's a number 2 that his arrow is moving in a direction where we feel like he can become an NFL starter in our league. So the evaluation was pretty crystal clear for all of us. I think he's someone that's going to be great in the room. He's smart. Quietly, that was an important signing for us."
Stidham finished 23-of-34 for 365 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 108.1 quarterback rating in that game against San Francisco.
IMPROVING ON SPECIAL TEAMS
If the Broncos are to improve in 2023, gains must be made on special teams. The unit struggled for much of 2022, and Payton said the phase is "awfully important" to finding success.
"I think it's one way to improve your team pretty quickly," Payton said. "I don't think we were very good last year in the kicking game, quite honestly, for a number of reasons. I've got a guy like [Special Teams Coordinator] Ben Kotwica and [Assistant Head Coach] Mike Westhoff — those are considerable resources that I think can help us. And so, it would be silly to have those two along with [Assistant Special Teams Coach] Chris Banjo and then not have a punter or not have the correct holder or even a returner that we're still working on.
"… It's got to be an important point of emphasis and obviously if you believe in hidden yardage and you understand yards equal points, each play you're fighting for those yards. That's an area that we felt we needed to improve dramatically."
Denver signed punter Riley Dixon in free agency and also added a number of players that could contribute to the phase. Cornerback Tremon Smith could be among the players that will help improve the unit.
"With Smith, I see a player that obviously competes outside at corner, and I see an elite special teams player," Payton said. "So corner, special teams. I see 24 snaps. You've got to look at it that way. The vision is pretty clear."
AT THE CENTER OF THE LINE
The Broncos made a pair of key additions along the offensive line, and Payton said he believes the signings of Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers should help fourth-year center Lloyd Cushenberry III.
"We felt like it was an area we needed to address," Payton said of the offensive line. "We feel like he's certainly going to benefit from these additions. We haven't met any of these guys yet, but we see him as our starting center, yeah."
BRONCOS TO EMPHASIZE PHASE I
As the Broncos near their voluntary offseason program, Payton reemphasized that the team's focus will be on weight lifting and conditioning for the first month of the program.
"There's a progression I think when you train athletes," Payton said, "and I think we're too quick to move out of Phase I into football after three weeks of lifting and running, and that's not enough time."
Wide receiver KJ Hamler suffered an injury while training away from the Broncos' facility and underwent surgery. Payton said Hamler is currently rehabbing the injury.