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Renck: Sean Payton won’t say it, but Broncos are finally, mercifully rebuilding

They can put Sean Payton on HGTV with a sledgehammer in one hand, a hard hat on his head and a wrecking ball swinging in the driveway and he still will not say the word.

Payton never rebuilds. Whatever the Broncos call it — reboot, restart, reshape — this franchise is finally doing what needs to be done. And what should have begun after the 2017 season.

The Broncos are taking the agonizing, but necessary, steps to do things the right way. They are removing emotion and viewing their problems through a telescope instead of a microscope. Since winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have failed to reach the postseason and own seven straight losing seasons, their longest drought since 1963-72.

A common denominator has existed during this stretch: delusions of adequacy. The Broncos looked at a roster aging in dog years, bereft of offensive playmakers and insisted they were one player away from returning to relevance. Or more specifically, one quarterback. They tried feel-good story Trevor Siemian, miscast draft pick Paxton Lynch, starter impersonator Case Keenum, past-his-prime Joe Flacco, mercurial second-rounder Drew Lock, vagabond Teddy Bridgewater and former champion Russell Wilson.

That plan turned out to be ABCDEFU.

It’s past time to stop looking for a life hack, the startling transformation only Ozempic can provide.

Payton understands this without saying it. The Broncos want to establish something that is sustainable, capable of creating long-term success, not a 9-8 record and playoff blowout.

Payton inherited this mess and attempted to steer the Broncos to their first winning season since 2016. The loss to the New England Patriots laid bare a sobering reality. The Broncos posting an 8-9 record while staying remarkably healthy spoke to a team that reached its ceiling.

This offseason provided Payton an opportunity to put the puzzle together to his liking. He will insist he is trying to win — he always is — but something bigger remains at work. Finally. Mercifully.

For the Broncos to climb out of this sinkhole of bad and boring, they can no longer think like they used to. They can attempt to stay competitive but must shed the arrogance that they are close to the Chiefs, Ravens, Bengals and Bills. They sit on a lower tier. And that’s OK. Really.

Regaining status requires purpose, patience, vision, elephant skin. This is why the timing is right. Payton cares little about public perception, operating without emotion in a silo. And owner Greg Penner supports him fully — seeking deep-rooted, annual postseason berths, not rabbit’s-foot-required magical seasons.

No more doubling down on mistakes. Wilson was not working with Payton. Move on. This team is not poised for a championship, so let star safety Justin Simmons seek one elsewhere. Marvin Mims Jr. needs to play. So, when the Browns offered a fifth and sixth-round pick in the 2024 draft for Jerry Jeudy on Saturday, sell, sell, sell! Jeudy needed a fresh start and Denver needs assets.

This is what rebuilding looks like. Decisions are made for the future not the present. It hurts. But could it be any more painful than the last eight years?

The Broncos are not blameless. Their best win last season was the worst thing that happened to them. At 3-5, they believed they were in the mix, even as Payton fumed and wanted to bench Wilson. They should have dealt Simmons and Jeudy at the Oct. 31 deadline. They might have been able to net a pair of third-round draft picks.

While the timing is off, they are on the right track. The Broncos now boast eight draft picks — including three fifth-rounders and two sixth-rounders, which could be used to land a bridge quarterback like Washington’s Sam Howell even if they take one in the first round.

There are multiple reasons to believe this new strategy will succeed. Payton has created a culture of accountability and massively upgraded the coaching staff the past two years. He planted a sign on the edge of the practice field that reads “Compete Street.” This was a welcome change from “Sesame Street” under Nathaniel Hackett. Secondly, Payton is in this for the long haul. There were times I thought he was the Broncos’ version of the Rockies’ Jim Leyland. This is not his 401K plan. He missed coaching during his one-year sabbatical. He embraces this challenge and recognizes it will take time.

Of course, I am suspicious he can pull it off. I covered future Hall of Famer Mike Shanahan. Shanahan the GM got Shanahan the coach fired with a battery of poor signings and missed draft picks.

Any doctor can make an incision. Can he perform surgery?

The Broncos are operating with a scant margin for error. For this to work, they must make shrewd decisions during the second wave of free agency. They must hit in the draft – think Rams last year – and develop 2023 prospects like cornerback Riley Moss, safety JL Skinner and center Alex Forsyth. And when it comes to the salary cap and contracts, general manager George Paton must perform gymnastics that would make the DU women’s team blush.

This spring the Broncos will begin work on a new training facility. It will not be the only thing under construction. Rebuilding is a good thing, the first meaningful step to getting this franchise where it wants to go in the long run.

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