Broncos coach Sean Payton making it clear that roster spots are earned, not given

In his first year as the team's head coach, Sean Payton will try to end the Broncos' current seven-year playoff drought. Their first game of the 2023 season is on September 10 against the Las Vegas Raiders. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton has made one message clear since entering the team’s suburban Denver complex: everyone is starting from scratch to earn their place.

The Broncos hired Payton to fix their playoff problem -- the team hasn’t played in a postseason game since its Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season. And after the early portions of the team’s offseason workout program, including rookie minicamp, every Broncos player has been given the same edict.

The past is the past and the future depends on what Payton sees from each player going forward.

“How they got here at this point is of no importance to us,’’ Payton said.

As one Broncos veteran put it last week, “We all knew things were going to change after last season and I don’t think anybody is going to feel like ‘oh, it’s all good.'"

Payton has been vague with the media -- he joked during the rookie minicamp he would hand out gift cards for the blandest answers -- while pushing the it’s-a-new-day message inside meeting rooms. Save for players like quarterback Russell Wilson, cornerback Pat Surtain II, safety Justin Simmons and newly signed tackle Mike McGlinchey, there will be little comfort offered to anyone on the roster.

“Time to take care of business,’’ rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. said during rookie minicamp.

“It’s all cool and good [to be drafted] but there’s a lot of work to do,’’ said rookie cornerback Riley Moss.

In many ways, those in the Broncos facility knew the pendulum would swing, because it always does. When a coach is fired, as Nathaniel Hackett was with two games remaining in the 2022 season, the other end of the spectrum is often sought.

If the disciplinarian is fired, a different approach is routinely brought in with the new hire. Hackett spoke of his desire “to make it fun to come to work’’ and a more communal approach.

If Hackett (4-11) had won more games, no eyebrows would have been raised. But as Vic Fangio and his no “death by inches’’ approach replaced Vance Joseph’s in 2019 and Hackett’s upbeat outlook replaced Fangio’s in 2022, Payton has shoved the pendulum back to a mantra of "show me, don’t tell me."

In his first meeting with the team’s rookies, Payton even put it on the screen at the front of the room just so there was no confusion from the get-go.

“We put up a slide ‘how you’re being evaluated,’ so it’s important, I would want to know that,’’ Payton said. “ … We try to talk all the time about a vision when we come up with players. Even when we draft players, what's the vision? What's the Year One vision? What's the Year Two vision? How do we see this player? … A lot of stress and we understand that, but we kind of put the numbers in front of them."