Sean Payton planning the unthinkable at quarterback in 2024?

Is Sean Payton planning the unthinkable at QB for the Broncos?

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Adam Glanzman/GettyImages

Speaking to the media at the annual NFL League Meetings, Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton made a fascinating comment about adding to the quarterback position that has everyone in Broncos Country putting on their tinfoil hats and playing armchair detective.

Take a look at what Payton had to say for yourself:

Yes, what exactly does Payton mean when he is differentiating guys who are "currently" in the NFL and guys who "have played" in the NFL? The immediate conclusion to be drawn is that Payton is talking about retired quarterbacks, but Drew Brees can't do it, folks. The man says he would still be playing in the NFL if he could actually still use his right arm to throw like that.

If Drew Brees isn't an option for Sean Payton this year, then who is?

Well, we know the Miami Dolphins and Sean Payton got into a bit of trouble over some plans they were apparently making to lure Tom Brady to Miami. The Dolphins may have actually been nearly certain their plan was going to work because otherwise, teams don't really risk getting into trouble like that. The Dolphins also made the slightly surprising move to fire Brian Flores that offseason, and they pivoted off the Payton/Brady idea and hired Mike McDaniel from the 49ers.

But that particular situation, which wasn't all that long ago, has some people speculating that maybe Payton is going to try and lure Tom Brady out of retirement for a year. Again, it would mean pulling off the unthinkable because Brady seems entrenched in retirement and is working toward a stake in ownership with the Las Vegas Raiders, but nothing is impossible, especially if Brady has the itch to play again.

And the guy looks phenomenal:

There's no question that Brady could still play, but how deep down this rabbit hole do we really want to go? Even though he physically looks like he could still do it, the idea of Tom Brady coming out of retirement just feels so far-fetched.

But it's not far-fetched to think that Payton could call someone out of retirement. Especially if the Broncos are bringing in a rookie QB this offseason and they want legitimate competition for Jarrett Stidham, having a veteran come in makes a lot of sense. Ryan Tannehill? That doesn't make sense. So if Payton is calling someone out of retirement, who might actually come play in Denver?

Well, I wouldn't say there's 0 percent chance of the Tom Brady thing. You just never know. One player who has expressed interest in an NFL return in the past but has also recently stated that he's "happy" calling games now for CBS -- former Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts QB Matt Ryan:

It's going to be tough to pluck some of these guys away from retirement just for a one-year thing, but Sean Payton is compelling and he's someone players love to play for.

Matt Ryan is someone Sean Payton is extremely familiar with. The two faced off against each other twice a year every year of Ryan's career in the NFC South, where Ryan was a consistent thorn in Payton's side. In his career with the Falcons, Matt Ryan threw 47 touchdowns against the Saints, more than he threw against any other team.

It could be interesting to see Ryan with a staff like Denver's considering the last two teams he was part of -- the 2022 Colts and 2021 Falcons -- were sinking ships, to say the least. Ryan didn't look great with the Colts in 2022 but that team was an atrocity and needed to be torn down and rebuilt. Maybe the last time we truly saw vintage "Matty Ice" was actually a disastrous prime-time game in Denver between the Colts and Broncos.

But this idea of guys who "have played" in the NFL is a pretty limited one. Peyton Manning isn't coming back. Tony Romo's time has passed. Andrew Luck seems entrenched in whatever he's doing and hasn't played since 2018.

What about Philip Rivers? Rivers last played in 2020, but he's been receiving offers to come back and play again from other teams, including back in 2021 when the New Orleans Saints were in desperation mode.

Sean Payton reportedly tried calling Drew Brees out of retirement late in the 2021 season, and called Philip Rivers to gauge his interest in coming back as well. Ultimately, nothing materialized with either.

Ultimately, it doesn't feel entirely unrealistic that Payton would be willing to call up any of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, or Philip Rivers and gauge their interest in coming back. What's the harm in a phone call and discussion? Serious negotiations, however? That's a different story. Matt Ryan has played most recently (2022). Rivers is 42 now, but was playing at a high level for the Colts back in 2020 and helped lead them to an 11-5 record.


The Broncos can't compromise drafting a young QB in order to bring someone out of retirement, but the idea of having one of these veterans in the building for a year to mentor both a rookie and Jarrett Stidham as well as compete with those guys would be fascinating. Sean Payton stated that in order for it to make sense for a rookie to sit, the player in front of that rookie has to be a really good one. The Broncos couldn't justify sitting a rookie for Jarrett Stidham, but perhaps if one of these older guys comes out of retirement and can still sling it, a succession plan would make some sense.

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