Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Renck: Broncos CEO Greg Penner isn’t thinking rebuild: “My expectation is still improvement this year”

ORLANDO, Fla. — Greg Penner walks into the Ritz as the smartest person in the lobby. One of his greatest strengths is that he never lets anyone know it or acts like it.

Penner is a lifelong learner, and his first two seasons as CEO and owner of the Broncos have provided a graduate degree in the NFL — a business unforgiving as a tax audit.

He has never taken it for granted that you buy a team, blow the whistle and let the victories roll in.

The Broncos finished last season with their noses pressed against the playoff windowpane for the eighth consecutive year. It brought a transition that looks like a rebuild after absorbing a $53 million cap hit on Russell Wilson this season and cutting star safety Justin Simmons.

But Penner pushed back on that notion Tuesday, believing multiple goals can be accomplished at once.

“The way I frame it is we are building this thing for sustained success. That does mean this offseason making some tough choices. I don’t look at it as we are making choices now that are going to hurt us in the short term. I look at it as we are making choices that will help us in the short term and set us up for the long term,” Penner told The Denver Post.

“My expectation, and I know (coach) Sean’s (Payton)  expectation, is still improvement this year. I am not into making bold predictions about the number of wins, but I think we are going to continue to get better.”

Penner’s personality is disarming but should not be interpreted as compromise. He is built like a triathlete and hikes mountains that require telescopes to view the peaks. You don’t want to see his name in your Peloton class because he will kick your … well, you know what.

Penner cares about player wellness, about Broncos Country, but in a business with a scoreboard, he cares most about winning.

“If you look at every member of our ownership group, everybody’s got that competitive fire. And we knew coming in what the standards and expectations are given the history of the franchise. We embrace that. We are not making any excuses, and the fact that the fans care so much and look at us with a critical eye, that’s what you want,” Penner said. “Sometimes that exposure and criticism stings a bit. But I am here to do everything we can to be great on and off the field. At the end of the day, the (fans) should be holding us accountable.”

That sentence is telling. It blends into why Penner believes Payton can revive the Broncos. Penner wasted no time firing Nathaniel Hackett 15 games into his first season, recognizing the incompetence. With Payton, his resume bakes in trust. The pair has developed mutual respect. Penner asks a lot of questions and empowers Payton.

While an 8-9 record was not deemed successful, the seismic cultural shift and improved health under Payton resonated with Penner.

“There are some things he did with (cutting) players like midseason that sent a signal to the locker room. At the beginning of training camp, they were working much harder than they had in the past. It was interesting because we had some really early injuries. Then with some of our vets there was some complaining of, ‘Why are we running so much? Why are we doing all this?’ Then we got into the season and we were not having injuries and some of the other players got moved out and it set a tone of, ‘We are going to work hard. We are going to be accountable,’” Penner said. “And that just flows through. It’s not one thing.”

Penner serves as the chairman of Walmart, founded an investment firm and is on more company boards than I have fingers. Football, however, is not like any other business, otherwise the Broncos’ success would be a certainty. The issue facing the Broncos is simple: They don’t have a franchise quarterback.

It’s like surf and turf without steak or the Rolling Stones without Mick.

“You could say it’s somewhat similar in business that you have to get the right CEO. But usually there you are developing and have a plan over time of who you are going to get in that role. This is harder because of the way it’s structured,” Penner said. “To get into the right position to draft you have to lose a lot of games which you don’t want to do. And if you are making a trade, you are taking risk and giving up a lot of capital, and a big free-agent signing is a lot of dollars. So, it’s definitely a challenge. But I feel good now with myself, Sean, (general manager) George (Paton), and others we have on staff.  It doesn’t guarantee we are going to get it right, but I feel like we are in a much better position to get it right.”

Since the Walton-Penner group took over, they have done a lot right. They poured $100 million into Empower Field upgrades, spearheaded a uniform change that will be revealed in a few weeks, paid $400,000 for new sod for the final game of the 2022 season (“I couldn’t stomach if someone got hurt,” Penner said), are replacing the turf at Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, and will break ground either this spring or late summer on a new state-of-the-art training facility.

And where does it stand regarding a new stadium?

“It’s a complex, long-term decision. We haven’t taken any options off the table at this point, including the current site. We are looking at everything to come up with what’s the right thing for our fan base, the right thing for our players and the organization. I think we will get it right, but it’s going to take some time,” Penner said.

The Broncos also recently held a two-day mountain retreat that included, for one session, Tim Patrick and Alex Singleton. Penner along with fellow Broncos owner and wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, both wanted to hear how they can help players in their community initiatives.

“We want our players to love playing here,” Penner said. “Some of it is tactical and at the same time it sends a message to our players that we’re going to do everything we can to be successful. I am not taking any shortcuts. Our staff isn’t, and the players can’t either.”

As he leaned back in his chair, it is clear Penner is growing increasingly comfortable in his role. But Penner will not be happy until the Broncos are winners.

“Yeah, I am getting tired of the video they put up at the beginning of the annual session here every year with lots of Kansas City pictures,” Penner said. “I am ready for something different.”

Want more Broncos news? Sign up for the Broncos Insider to get all our NFL analysis.

Popular Articles