MERILATT MONDAY

The glimpse of Sean Payton’s offense was a bleak experience

Jan 8, 2024, 4:00 AM | Updated: 6:15 am


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There’s no need to look into a crystal ball. The Broncos got a firsthand glimpse at their future.

After benching Russell Wilson for “football reasons,” Denver played their last two games of the regular season with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. The backup showed what life will be like next season. And the season after. And perhaps beyond.

The Broncos will have the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft. At that spot, they aren’t landing one of the top QBs.

Forget about Caleb Williams and Drake Maye. Don’t get too excited about Michael Penix Jr. Those players will be long gone by the time Denver is on the clock.

Instead, they’re going to have their choice between Bo Nix and J.J. McCarthy. Ugh.

If that doesn’t excite them, the Broncos can always look for a new quarterback via free agency. That’s a group that includes the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Jacoby Brissett and Marcus Mariota. Ugh.

In other words, get ready for more of what the Broncos saw in Weeks 17 and 18. With Stidham at the helm, Denver averaged 15.0 points per game.

They were anemic against the Chargers, winning 16-9. They were listless against the Raiders, losing 27-14.

But it wasn’t just about the scoreboard. The style of play should be the concern moving forward.

Without Wilson at quarterback, the Broncos had no big-play ability. There was no threat of anything down the field. It was dink and dunk, throwing short of the sticks all day long.

In other words, they were running the Sean Payton offense. Stidham was going through his progressions, working his head coach’s system as designed. And it was brutal to watch.

For two weeks, it was painful. For an entire season, it’ll be unbearable.

But that’s what the Broncos are facing. If they decide to move on from Wilson, a quarterback who salvaged their dreadful offense by making repeated plays off schedule, they’ll be facing 17 games of Stidham-like results.

That’s not to say Denver’s backup quarterback is to blame. Stidham did an admirable job in relief of Wilson. But his talents are limited.

Payton thought he could find success with C-level quarterback, however. Like a lot of offensive-minded head coaches, he believed that his system would prevail. He believed X’s and O’s were more important than Jimmys and Joes.

They aren’t. They never have been. They never will be.

The last two weeks proved that point. But the Broncos aren’t going to learn their lesson.

They’re going to head down a Wilson-less path. They believe that Payton can find success with another quarterback.

He can’t. Because Stidham is the likely option.

He’s under contract for next season, so he’ll be in the mix. And every other option with be a similar kind of player.

The Broncos aren’t finding a great QB in the draft. They aren’t finding anything other than a journeyman in free agency. So they’re likely to enter next season with a player that is either Stidham or less than Stidham.

And they won’t have a chance.

They didn’t on Sunday, as the Raiders ran them out of the building. Once they were down 17-7 at halftime, Denver was cooked. With Stidham at the helm, running an offense that couldn’t strike quickly, the Broncos had no chance of coming back.

Next season will be much of the same. There’s no way out of it.

Denver’s only hope for the future is to draft a franchise QB. There’s little to no chance of doing that without a top-10 pick.

There isn’t a viable option in free agency, which leaves Stidham as the best option. And he’ll look a lot like he did on Sunday.

Could the quarterback find success in the right situation? Perhaps. But that’s not in Denver.

Given the Wilson contract, the Broncos will have to absorb $85 million in dead cap over the next two seasons. That will severely limit their ability to add more playmakers.

If Denver could upgrade from Javonte Williams, have a viable tight end and find a legit No. 1 receiver, maybe they could win with Stidham. But they won’t be able to add those pieces. And the marginal quarterback will be exposed in the process.

The future has been revealed for the Broncos. What everyone saw the last two weeks will be the norm.

The Sean Payton offense is a dud. Get ready for 17 weeks of watching it fizzle.

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