The day Sean Payton was hired as Denver’s head coach, he previewed what his first several months on the job would look like.
“For the early part of six, seven, eight months, whenever you go to sleep at night, your checklist won’t be complete,” he said Feb. 6. “That’s just part of the deal.”
There’s always still more work to do when trying to overhaul a roster and kickstart a franchise that’s mired in a seven-season playoff drought.
Payton’s roster checklist won’t be complete when he goes home in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, either, despite Tuesday afternoon’s hard deadline for NFL teams to cut down their rosters to 53 players.
That’s assuming he, general manager George Paton and the rest of the scouting and coaching staff make it home at all in the time between the 2 p.m. Tuesday roster cutoff and 10 a.m. Wednesday, when waiver claims on all those cuts are processed and more than 1,000 players become free agents.
“I’m going to go right inside and tonight we’re going to be here until 2 a.m.,” Payton said after his team finished a light-load practice at about 1:45 p.m.
Quipped Paton, “There’s 1,400 or some players on that wire that we’ll sift through tonight. Sean said we’re staying until 2 a.m. He hasn’t done this before, but usually we stay until 5 a.m.”
Here’s where the Broncos stand at the outset of that all-nighter of a film session:
They’ve got 53 players, as necessitated by league rules. Three, however, are expected to end up on injured reserve Wednesday. The candidates include cornerbacks K’Waun Williams (ankle surgery Monday) and Riley Moss (core), safety P.J. Locke (foot/ankle) and offensive tackle Alex Palczewski (dislocated finger).
Those placements will knock those players out for at least the season’s first four weeks and clear spots for three veterans released Tuesday — offensive lineman Quinn Bailey, defensive tackle Mike Purcel and cornerback Fabian Moreau — to re-sign to the active roster on Wednesday.
Another vested veteran, wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, is set to return on a practice squad deal, a source told The Post.
In the meantime, though, the Broncos will scour those 1,400-some players for potential additions. And given that they are fifth in line for waiver claim priority, they have a great chance of landing any player they really like. In fact, they could add multiple players to a roster that looks still to be in a state of considerable transition.
Philadelphia, No. 31 in the pecking order, knew it would likely not be able to get tight end Albert Okwuegbunam on waivers because of its position, so it swapped 2025 picks Tuesday with the Broncos in order to acquire him.
Denver, because of its paltry 5-12 record in 2022, is in a much different position.
It would not be surprising if Payton, Paton and company find players they like better than those currently on their roster.
Case in point: Payton made the comment about staying in the building watching film until 2 a.m. and then followed it up by saying, ”If I loved where I was at (roster-wise), I’d probably go home for dinner at 6 p.m. So, maybe that’s a way to answer. I like the guys we’ve fought with and are playing, but I do think the hay’s not in the barn. There’s going to be a number of players that will be on this waiver wire that we’ve got to look closely at and then make the comparisons.”
What are they comparing against on Denver’s first 53-man roster?
Well, for Tuesday night the Broncos have as many undrafted rookies (four) as they do wide receivers. And that total includes Jerry Jeudy, who has a hamstring injury that may cause him to miss the first couple weeks of the season.
Nonetheless, Denver jettisoned a cavalcade of pass-catchers, figuring they can do better elsewhere. If waived speedster Marquez Callaway clears waivers and joins Humphrey on the practice squad, they could be early-season elevations to give Denver options while Jeudy is out. Beyond that scenario, though, the Broncos would have to find outside help to pad out their group. Or ask Kendall Hinton back to the practice squad.
They have no such issue in the secondary, considering 13 defensive backs made the initial cut. That number will potentially drop Wednesday, however, when they move Williams and likely at least one other defensive back to injured reserve and bring Moreau back.
“We are a little heavy in the secondary,” Paton said. “Outside linebacker we have good numbers, and we’ll get a practice squad or two at outside linebacker. We’re going to be light at some numbers, but it’s just roster management.
“It’s going to fluctuate in the next 48 hours.”
Indeed, Denver likes its depth at outside linebacker — it kept undrafted rookie Thomas Incoom over veteran Aaron Patrick — and perhaps came through training camp surprised by its functional depth on the defensive line.
“With Sean and his coaching staff, it’s easy to evaluate (players) for him,” Paton said. “It’s easy for scouts because (Payton has) a vision. They have a clear vision of what they want at every position.”
Injuries complicate the early picture some, but the bottom line takeaway from Denver’s roster cutdown day is they didn’t feel like they had enough good players in camp to form a clear image in Payton’s eyes. A temporarily unbalanced roster — 27 defenders vs. 23 offensive players — a pair of trades and four undrafted players making the cut Tuesday all spoke to that conclusion.
So, the next step is to see who the rest of the league was willing to part with and continue trying to make progress on that seemingly never-ending checklist.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)