Broncos' Penner says free agent splurge result of lack of draft picks, needs

Broncos CEO Penner says free agent splurge result of lack of draft picks, needs. Owners' expectations center around 'right process, culture.'

Broncos' Penner says free agent splurge result of lack of draft picks, needs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Outside the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, the black SUVs lined up for owners to exit their annual meetings Tuesday afternoon.

The group addressed issues like the potential sale of the Washington Commanders for $6 billion the Broncos' were apparently a bargain at $4.65 billion approving the wearing of the No. 0 and expanding replay to include failed fourth down attempts.

The Broncos ownership led the charge in one category roughly $140 million in guaranteed money for 16 free agents.

Speaking for the first time since coach Sean Payton's introductory press conference, Broncos CEO Greg Penner explained that the splurge requires context, and that the Walton-Penners have no plans to become the Steinbrenners of the NFL.

"You definitely dont win the season in free agency and you dont necessarily want to have to spend that way each year, but we just felt this year with the lack of draft picks and the needs that we had on the offensive line that that was the approach we needed to take, Penner said when questioned by Denver7 about the aggressive strategy.

"We just looked at it and said, OK, these are our needs and if we can get these players, we really want to get them. And, fortunately, we had a lot of conversations leading up to it, we had players that we were targeting and we got all of those players. Again, ideally, you can do that through the draft and that will be more the approach in the future, but this year it was critical to take this approach.

Penner promised better to Broncos Country when he fired coach Nathaniel Hackett, the nadir of a 5-12 season that included an historically inept offense and sideline chaos. Three months later, I asked Penner about his goals for the 2023 season.

"For me and (father-in-law) Rob (Walton) and (wife) Carrie (Walton-Penner) and the rest of our ownership group, the expectation is around the right process and the right approach and the right culture, Penner said. Its not necessarily around we have an expectation of X number of wins or Y number of wins. One thing that were really confident in is that were going to take the right approach and that we will have the right expectations of our staff and our players.

Payton has changed everything. He boasts a resume with 152 wins and a Super Bowl ring. When the Broncos ownership group first spoke to him, they wanted to make sure he still had that competitive fire after a year off. They were convinced he did.

So far, his presence has permeated UCHealth Training Center as Payton exudes intensity not seen since Gary Kubiak, and, more specifically, Mike Shanahan.

"He immediately set a different tone coming into the building. As a head coach probably the most important thing that you do is the staff that you hire and right away he came in and hes built a staff thats diverse. And I mean diverse across multiple dimensions its age, youve got everyone from (75-year-old assistant head coach) Mike Weshtoff to (28-year-old quarterbacks coach) Davis Webb, diverse backgrounds from different coaching trees and perspectives and thats probably the most impressive thing," Penner said.

"There's been lots of learning in the past 7.5 months. One is just how passionate our fans are and how much they want to win. The last seven seasons have been tough. But at the end of the day, the biggest learning and what we saw this fall is weve got to have the right people in place, we need the right culture, weve got to set expectations, we need accountability. I think with hiring Sean Payton, were teed up to be a very different team.

Lions coach Dan Campbell served as a longtime assistant for Payton for years in New Orleans. He believes Payton will deliver on all counts.

"Hes energetic, hes highly intelligent, hes very demanding. Hes innovative. Hes always been innovative," Campbell said Tuesday. "Hes going to give clear communication. Everybody in the building and everyone in that locker room is going to know exactly where he stands with him. Hes going to get it turned is what hes going to do. Hes going to get it turned. Now, I dont know when, but its going to happen.