Sean Payton gives Broncos early break: 'Like where we're at'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the what-a-difference-a-year-makes department, Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton judged his team's progress this offseason worthy of a reward.

On Wednesday, Payton told the Broncos players he had canceled Thursday's scheduled minicamp practice, sending the group into its downtime slightly sooner than expected. It was something he did not do last June in his first year with the Broncos.

Payton said after Wednesday's practice that he had not initially planned on canceling the final minicamp practice but decided the team's performance had made it an option.

"Overall it went well," Payton said of the offseason program. "Look ... this was more a byproduct of what we've been seeing, where we're at. And I like where we're at."

The Broncos have a younger roster than last season, given the release of players such as quarterback Russell Wilson and safety Justin Simmons this offseason to go with free agency departures such as linebacker Josey Jewell and center Lloyd Cushenberry III. Payton has referenced the "enthusiasm" of that younger roster on several occasions during the offseason.

The Broncos have multiple position battles underway, including the most high-profile one at quarterback between Jarrett Stidham, rookie Bo Nix and Zach Wilson, along with cornerback and inside linebacker.

"We had good competition," Payton said. "All the metrics that we track ... and the attendance, but I would say competition sharpens things and it was different. It felt different this year, in a good way."

Payton was also asked if the younger roster after the extreme makeover this offseason, his second with the team, has influenced his demeanor in any way compared with his first year on the job in Denver, when the Broncos finished 8-9 and out of the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year.

"Look, there's probably a little bit of that first year when you're pissing on all the trees," Payton said. "And I'm probably guilty of that. You always talk about being present, where you're at, where your feet are at ... and I would say that happened with me quite a bit."

Payton said he told the players to "not lose" the momentum they had gained and said he expected the three quarterbacks to come back for training camp in late July ready to continue the competition for the starting job.

Payton and wide receiver Courtland Sutton each said the three quarterbacks and most of the team's pass-catchers were going to get together on their own for a week in early July to get a head start.

Payton also said he met one-on-one with Sutton on Wednesday morning. Frustrated with his contract, Sutton had stayed away from almost all of the team's offseason program.

He did attend the two days of the mandatory minicamp Tuesday and Wednesday but didn't participate much beyond stretching and doing some light individual work. Sutton said Tuesday he hasn't decided if he will report to training camp on time in July if his contract isn't addressed by the team. He has two years remaining on a four-year, $60 million extension he signed late in the 2021 season.

"Courtland and I met [Wednesday] morning for quite a while. We have a good relationship," Payton said. "He's important to what we're doing. ... I would say he's important, and I think he knows that."