With the NFL draft exactly one week out, Denver Broncos' GM George Paton held court at UCHealth Training Center on Thursday. In his first true pre-draft press conference as a general manager, Paton fielded questions and answered quite earnestly, while still keeping his cards close to the vest.
If we've learned anything about Paton through three months, it's that his poker game is on point. On the subject of the quarterback position, Paton talked about how the 2021 first-round crop features some "elite" athletes with limitless ceilings, depending on what "your flavor is."
Holding the No. 9 overall pick, many Broncos fans hope Paton uses it (or leverages it) to take one of the top-5 QBs in the class. Only time will tell on that front. Meanwhile, after talking at length about his objective to add "competition" to the Broncos' QB room when he first arrived in Denver, Paton has yet to make a single move there.
The Broncos have been tied to a few QB deals around the league that ultimately got consummated without Paton's involvement, like Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold. But despite kicking the NFL bushes, and ostensibly turning over every stone, nary a QB has been added to the Broncos' roster.
Maybe that changes on draft day, maybe not. But on Thursday, Paton acknowledged and sympathized with fans pining to know what the team's QB situation is going to be in 2021, before explaining his rationale on why the Broncos haven't just grabbed a QB willy-nilly.
"I understand it. We do like Drew Lock so what we don't want to do is force it and bring a guy in—overpay a guy to come in and maybe he's not as good as the guy we have," Paton told reporters. "Maybe he's not good enough to compete. We want to get the right guy and we still have time."
Translation: There's yet to be a guy so bulletproof and bonafide that's given Paton the confidence he'd be either A.) an immediate upgrade to Drew Lock, or B.) at least a plausible threat to the incumbent.
Had Paton identified a QB that checked those boxes, perhaps he would have crossed the Rubicon instead of inching to the precipice before backing away. However, this man became a GM for a reason and he revealed one of the remaining strategies the Broncos could employ once the draft has come and gone, relative to the QB position.
"There's a trade market. We have the draft," Paton said. "The landscape may change after the draft. A team drafts one, maybe that quarterback is on the market. So we're going to be patient, not force it but we do realize that we want competition and I have said that since I've gotten here and that hasn't changed."
It's true. Each year, it seems, at least one QB gets drafted to a team in which the incumbent starter is entrenched but ends up finding himself on thinning ice. If nothing else, Paton is an opportunist and he's exceedingly patient, so if such a window opens on a QB that the Broncos' GM views as checking those two boxes above, perhaps he'll move.
But remember, Paton likes Lock. While it's too soon for Paton to acknowledge that Lock will be the Week 1 starter in Denver (remember, doing so would remove the advantage he's worked hard to develop at the figurative poker table with 31 other GMs seated 'round), the Broncos' front-office chief emphasized yet again his comfortability with Lock.
"I don't know about Week 1," Paton said. "We're really high on Drew. I like seeing Drew here every morning when I come in. He's working hard. He's trending in the right direction. As you know, he has a lot of talent. I think he's becoming a better pro. But we're still going to look at the quarterback position. I've said since I've got here, we want to bring in competition and that's the goal. We plan on doing that."
If Paton were to say publicly that Lock is for sure The Guy in 2021, it would erode the value of the No. 9 overall pick he's worked hard to cultivate all offseason long. For now, GMs around the league can't say for sure whether Paton truly plans to move forward with Lock in 2021, or if all the Pro Day trips he's made to scout QB prospects in-person means the Broncos are angling to draft one next week.
That lack of clarity, relative to the other 31 GMs around the league, only builds the value of pick No. 9 so that, in the event that a coveted signal-caller falls in the top-10, some QB-needy team might be desperate enough to offer the Broncos a slew of premium-round draft picks to trade up and swap places with Denver.
After all, based on the Minnesota Vikings' draft strategy, which Paton helped define and even addressed on Thursday, to the Broncos' new GM, it's all about stockpiling as many "darts" to throw as possible and elevate the odds of hitting on more than just one or two draft picks.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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