With lessons learned from 2022, Greg Penner has clear direction for Broncos

Mar 30, 2023, 12:11 AM | Updated: 12:13 am

Greg Penner and Sean Payton...

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It’s easy to forget that Greg Penner is still a rookie NFL co-owner and CEO. He’s still on his first cycle through the NFL calendar. His first offseason, his first draft, even his first training-camp opening as the Broncos’ boss are still yet to come.

It’s easy to forget, because this week, Penner didn’t sound like a football executive getting his feet wet. Instead, he sounded like a seasoned veteran of the NFL hurly-burly, someone who knows precisely what he wants and how to get there.

He knows, for example, that the Broncos’ free-agency splurge can’t become an annual tradition. Not because they can’t afford it, of course. But the limitations of the salary cap make annual cannonball splashes into the free-agent market untenable.

It was necessary this year because of the lack of draft capital, drained by the trade for Russell Wilson and the acquisition of the rights to hire Sean Payton. But in the future, Penner plans a more balanced approach. After all, no team succeeds in today’s NFL without a slew of cost-controlled, first-contract contributors.

“You definitely don’t win the season in free agency, and you don’t want to have to necessarily spend that way every year,” Penner said. “But we just felt like this year, with the lack of draft picks, the needs that we had on the offensive line, that was the approach that we needed to take.

“… Again, ideally, you can do that through the draft, and that will be more the approach in the future,” Penner added a moment later. “But for this year, it was critical to take this approach.”

It’s also about cleaning up the mess of 2022. It was a rough season, and largely broke down because of decisions made before the Walton-Penner group assumed stewardship of the franchise last August. By the time they officially assumed control, training camp was almost complete, and injuries had already exacted a toll in the form of Tim Patrick being out for the season and Greg Dulcich dealing with a slew of hamstring problems.

The 5-12 disaster was excruciating. But it was also cleansing — and educational.

The biggest lesson? It’s about people — specifically, having the right people.

He learned the hard way last season what it’s like when you don’t.

“ … At the end of the day, probably the biggest learning — and we saw it this fall — was, it comes back to, we’ve got to have the right people in place. We need the right culture,” Penner said.

“We’ve got to set expectation. We need accountability. And I think with hiring Sean Payton, we’re teed up to be a very different team next year.

It would have been easy for Penner to say Tuesday that his expectation for the 2023 season revolved around a playoff appearance and a specific win total. But befitting his methodical approach, he saw differently.

“For me, the expectation — and for Rob [Walton] and Carrie [Walton Penner] and the rest of our ownership group — is around the right process and the right approach and the right culture,” Penner said. “It’s not necessarily around, ‘We have an expectation of X number of wins or Y number of wins.’

“And one thing that we’re really confident in is that we’re going to take the right approach and we will have the right expectations of our staff and our players.”

That sort of philosophy makes the perspective on a new or renovated stadium easier to understand. This ownership group will take its time. The clock ticks softly, almost imperceptibly with nine years left on the lease.

Any choice to be made regarding a stadium will have careful evaluation and diligence. You may not agree with what Penner and the ownership and management decide — but there is no decision that will yield 100-percent approval. They get that.

But one thing that will meet with universal approval is on-field success — and a plan and philosophy to get there. The Broncos have those things now.

Last August, the Walton-Penner group bought an NFL team.

Seven-and-a-half months later, it is truly theirs. And the Broncos appear to be in secure hands.



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