Imagine being Denver Broncos owner/CEO Greg Penner, fresh off the heels of your first season as an NFL owner. You just had to endure one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history. You fired the head coach the day after Christmas. You went through an extensive hiring process, making one of the most high-profile moves of the entire 2023 offseason by hiring one of the all-time great head coaches in the game -- Sean Payton.
But it wasn't as easy as 1, 2, 3...
You not only had to go through an extensive hiring process, but you had to jump through hoops to get Payton in Denver. You had to swing a trade with the New Orleans Saints involving high draft selections.
It was a complicated offseason, which was followed by one of the biggest free agent spending sprees in Denver Broncos franchise history. If you're Greg Penner and the Walton-Penner Ownership Group, you felt like you "won" the offseason...only to see the team sputter to a 1-5 start and one of the worst defensive stretches in history, including a 70-20 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
Penner shared his thoughts on that at an end-of-season press conference on Tuesday:
"We understand the championship standard that we have here, both for the organization and the fan’s expectations. This is a proud franchise. We grade ourselves by our winning record, and this year, we didn’t meet our expectations. I think back to when we were 1-5. I’m having sleepless nights and thinking, ‘Is this season a bust?’ Sean came into my office a couple days after the Kansas City game, and had the Detroit Lions’ schedule and said, ‘You know what? I think we can be this year’s Detroit Lions and bounce back from this.’ I chuckled a little bit and the next five games were really thrilling and exciting for us as owners, and I’m sure for our fans, as well."- Greg Penner (via Broncos PR)
Although that stretch of play was exciting, Penner made it very clear that they're not pleased with moral victories. They may be pleased with the direction the team is heading, but they share in the fans' championship expectations year in and year out.
"I want to make sure our fans understand that I get their frustrations. The main message for Broncos Country that I would have is we’re just as impatient as you are to win here. We understand that we have a lot of work to do this offseason to get better. I want to thank the fans for your loyalty, support [and] passion. I think we have the best fans in the world here."- Greg Penner
Something that's really important for fans of the team to know is how please Penner is with the culture that has been set by Payton and his staff. Although you can't deny the disappointment of a losing season or missing the playoffs, you also can't deny the clear improvements the team made in terms of just the literal win total, fewer injuries, marked improvement on special teams, and player development as a whole.
Penner noted all of those things, but the primary reason he gave as to why fans should be optimistic going forward?
"The biggest thing is the culture that sets the floor for how we can go from here and on that front. Again, I’m very encouraged. We know we have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be. This offseason is going to be a busy one."- Greg Penner
A new "floor" has been set. It does feel like we've just got in at the ground floor of what this team is capable of with Sean Payton as a head coach, and the Broncos are very pleased with the working relationship between he and general manager George Paton.
Hopefully, there will be a lot fewer sleepless nights for Penner and the ownership group in 2024.