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Horse Tracks: Broncos’ Penner proving his mettle among NFL franchise owners

With a full offseason and season - and hiring a new coach - Greg Penner is showing up as a high-quality owner with great vision for the future of the Broncos.

The Denver Broncos take on the Cleveland Browns during week 12 of the NFL season Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Broncos’ end-of-season pressers last week offered little surprise in how the owner, GM and coach each evaluated themselves and the team’s season.

George Paton seemed relatively unaware of his impotence as a GM with Sean Payton in the house.

Payton provided the expected dismay with just enough arrogance to distance himself from total accountability but still own some of the shortcomings.

And Greg Penner offered the appropriate “it was better but not good enough” view from the owner’s seat.

But as a guy new to football ownership - having just had his first offseason to make changes and be fully responsible for the product on the field in 2023 - Penner had a few really interesting things to say that I like to believe show this franchise as a whole - not just the football team - is finally on the right path.

For the record, I believe Sean Payton is getting the team on the right path too, but it was kind of easy to forget how much the overall franchise suffered while Pat Bowlen’s legacy wasted away under the trust operated by then-CEO and President Joe Ellis, counsel Rich Slivka and attorney Mary Kelly.

Let’s look at a few key comments:

“I would say that I’m a big proponent of constant learning. Sam Walton would always say, ‘Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, that’s about when you’re ready to fail.’ When we’re here Year 19 [or] 20 and we’re having this conversation, I’ll still be learning.

I seriously love everything about this answer. For one thing, he’s not arrogant enough to believe that being an executive at a major U.S. corporation like Walmart means he knows everything - or frankly anything - about owning a football team.

While the words could be platitudes, Penner has demonstrated an eagerness to learn the ropes on the NFL side and the team side. One of the greatest things about Bowlen was his true passion for the sport, which made him fall in love with his team. And that made him make decisions to help the team more than his bottom line. Already Penner has made similar decisions as owners upgraded fans’ experience and are looking at upgrades to the team facility. And on that he said:

Our building right now is actually great. The challenge is as it gets older, we kept putting more and more money in it to keep it up to the standard that it needed to be at. It has also gotten small, and it’s very difficult to expand. We really wanted to have an opportunity to bring more of our business folks down from the stadium, get people in one building, and then have a building that’s really player focused and central. It’s all about the players. Instead of having the main building, the strength and conditioning area and the practice facility, we’ll pull it all together. The spaces are going to be terrific. We think it’ll raise the expectations for the players and the organization.

Very Bowlen-esque, in my opinion.

For me personally, practice is a great opportunity. I get a chance to visit with [Head Coach] Sean [Payton] about plays he’s running. I talk to [General Manager] George [Paton] about what’s going on with different players. I’ll have a conversation with [Vice President of Player Health & Performance] Beau [Lowery] on the medical side. [Assistant Head Coach Mike] Westhoff will tell me how he’s teaching kickers how to kick. It’s a lot of those little things.

Again, I love how he’s getting into the team and learning all aspects from play calling to medical care to technique. He hired a coach who likes to pay attention to details, and Penner is showing that the two are cut from the same cloth - which adds to the working relationship. It’s also got to be something recognized by players when the owner is out there learning too.

I’m not a big believer in that there’s one ‘ah-ha’ moment where you have it figured out. It’s a lot of those little things that give you perspective. Once you have that perspective, you get experience, and you can make better decisions.”

Again, Penner knows the value of not ever thinking you know everything and clearly recognizes that getting his hands dirty in the day-to-day of playing football will give him a lot better understanding of the needs of his team and staff.

“As CEO, I want to be briefed and know what’s going on. That being said, I entrust people to do their jobs, and I don’t coach the football team. I don’t call the agents or have negotiations on player contracts.”

Part of the context for this was related to the failed negotiations on Russell Wilson’s contract - which is a scenario all its own. What I liked about this comment is that Penner is also not trying to do more than he should as an owner. He seems to know his boundaries and has learned from the corporate world that micromanaging can be detrimental to a smooth operation. Jerry Jones should take some notes.

“The financial part of it is a significant component, in terms of how this works out in the future, but that’s not what will drive the decision. The decision will be driven by what’s in the best interest of this football team winning games.”

Once again speaking on the Wilson situation, Penner knows his role. He has the money and will have the final say, but he’ll be taking cues from his coach and letting football dictate the direction. While the Broncos have to work their way out of a bad QB contract for several years, it’s nice to see that the owner seems willing to swallow some of that if necessary because ultimately it might be a more positive direction for the team long-term.

Broncos/NFL News

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