MERILATT MONDAY

The salty Broncos shouldn’t be saving receipts from naysayers

Jun 24, 2024, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:05 am

The Broncos are a salty bunch. And for good reason.

They aren’t getting much respect this offseason. Pro Football Focus ranked their roster as the worst in the league. Prior to the draft, NFL.com’s Jeff Chadiha said they had “arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL,” a problem that they tried to remedy with a first-round pick that has been panned in a lot of circles. And the oddsmakers have set the team’s over/under at just 5.5 wins this season.

The Broncos have been catching a lot of strays. And they aren’t happy about it.

On the first day of mandatory minicamp, Denver Sports 104.3 The Fan’s Zach Bye asked Sean Payton about hearing the noise. It was clear that Denver’s head coach has a chip on his shoulder.

“I think that I have two middle fingers,” Payton said. “I’ve gotten better with age (at) not using them.”

In other words, he’d like to tell the naysayers where to stick it. And the head coach can’t wait until he has the opportunity to do just that.

Payton’s semi-disgruntled wide receiver agrees. When Courtland Sutton finally showed up for an offseason activity, he was high on his teammates.

“I don’t see this being a three-, four-year process,” the wideout said about the team’s rebuild. “But if it becomes a three-, four-year dynasty, then I would hope that I’m able to be a part of it.”

But those comments paled in comparison to what Jaleel McLaughlin had to say last week. During an in-studio appearance on “The Drive” with Bye and Phillip Lindsay, the running back didn’t hold back.

“Yeah, I hear it, and it pisses me off,” he said about the negative talk. “We gonna show them. I want them same people to keep that same energy at the end of this year. I’ve kept some receipts.”

For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of talk. For several reasons.

One, a team should have self-belief. If they don’t think they can be successful, no one else should either.

Second, using outside noise as a motivator is a time-honored tradition in sports. Some of the greatest athletes of all-time, with Michael Jordan at the top of the list, have been driven by naysayers, real or perceived.

But to some extent, the Broncos are taking it too far. At least publicly.

It’s okay for them to say that they hear the negativity and they’re motivated by it. To suggest that the people being skeptical deserve a double-bird if proven wrong is a bit much. To claim that the team is keeping receipts is just plain ludicrous.

There are reasons why people are down on the Broncos. A lot of them.

The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015, the second-longest drought in the NFL. They haven’t had a winning season since 2016, the longest stretch during the franchise’s history in the league.

And it doesn’t end there.

Quarterback is the most-important position in all of sports. The Broncos have nothing but question marks at that spot.

Zach Wilson is their most-experienced option. He has a career record of 12-21, with more interceptions (25) than touchdowns (23) on his resume.

Jarrett Stidham has also started games in the NFL. He’s 1-3, with eight touchdowns and eight picks.

And Bo Nix is a rookie. He was also the sixth QB taken, a designation normally indicative of a journeyman, other than the once-in-a-lifetime 1983 draft, when Dan Marino filled that role.

Yes, the Broncos went 8-9 last year. But two of those wins came against a Chargers team that had Easton Stick at quarterback. Denver also lost a game 70-20 a season ago, surrendering the most points in a game since the AFL-NFL merger.

Justin Simmons left. Josey Jewell is gone. Kareem Jackson departed. Russell Wilson is in Pittsburgh.

The list goes on and on and on. People aren’t picking on the Broncos; there just isn’t an obvious reason to be high on them.

Maybe Payton is a great enough coach to make chicken salad out of what appears to be you-know-what. Maybe the sum will be greater than the individual parts.

Maybe.

Let’s hope so. That’d be great. It’d make for a really fun story, creating a lot of buzz in the Mile High City.

But the Broncos will need a lot to go right in order for that to happen. A lot.

They’ll need Stidham, Wilson or Nix to play at a high level. They’ll need Sutton to return to his pre-injury form, which was five years ago, or Marvin Mims to make a huge leap in year two. They’ll need Lucas Krull, a guy with eight career receptions, to become a legit pass-catching tight end. And they’ll need McLaughlin, Javonte Williams or rookie Audric Estime to emerge as a threat in the backfield.

And that’s just on offense. Defensively, the Broncos have just as many questions.

Can Jonathon Cooper (8.5 sacks in ’23), Nik Bonitto (8.0) and Baron Browning (4.5) provide a consistent pass rush on a weekly basis? Will Cody Barton or Jonas Griffith provide stability inside next to linebacker Alex Singleton? Do Brandon Jones and P.J. Locke have what it takes to fill the void left by Simmons and Jackson departing?

Those are a lot of things that have to go the Broncos way. And most of them involve unknown players having the best seasons of their careers. In other words, Payton and company need to catch a lot of green lights this season.

They might. They could.

But thinking that’s unlikely to happen doesn’t make someone a “hater.” It just makes them a realist.

So the Broncos should save the talk about double birds and receipts. The naysayers have good reasons for being skeptical.

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