On Tuesday, George Paton was officially introduced as the new general manager of the Denver Broncos. It started off on awkward footing as once again, president of football operations John Elway got tongue-tied and botched the name of the very guy he was there to introduce.
"I will at this time introduce George Patrick—George Paton to everybody," Elway said via Zoom.
Some fans saw that as a bad omen, especially considering how Elway's last botched intro — newly-signed quarterback Case Keenum ('Case Keesum')— led to a 6-10 season in 2018 and the eventual dismissal of Vance Joseph. What Tuesday's verbal faux pas really hammered home is that Elway's stepping down from GM duties was perhaps overdue. The man is tired.
It's worth mentioning that Elway could have been addressing Broncos' chief communications officer Patrick Smyth, signaling that he's ready to 'introduce George Paton' to take over the Zoom call. In the most flattering interpretation possible, Elway could have meant, 'I will at this time introduce George—hey, Patrick Smyth, I will at this time introduce George Paton to everybody.'
Like water off a duck's back, Paton took it in stride and launched into a nice statement before opening up the virtual floor to questions. What did we learn from Paton's first presser as Broncos GM? Here's what mattered most.
Paton Likes Drew Lock but 'We're Still Looking'
“I liked Drew coming out of the draft—big arm, athletic, playmaker," Paton said. "I haven’t studied him. I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop, but I can’t comment on your second question.”
The second question had a little something to do with Lock's prospects for being the day-one starter in 2021. Paton complimented Lock but stopped short of anointing him The Guy for next season.
Paton will turn over every stone and shake every tree to see if an upgrade to the quarterback position is available to the Broncos. If such an upgrade is found, and he's within Paton's reach, that's a move that gets made.
However, sitting here in the third week of January, no obvious upgrade emerges. At least, not one that Denver is realistically in striking distance to land.
Odds are, Lock gets one more year. But in the interim, you can count on Paton bringing in a much more proven and experienced veteran to push Lock and serve as a true fail-safe backup.
“The quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you don’t have stability at quarterback, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining winning," Paton said. "I think we all want the franchise quarterback, and that’s the number one goal is trying to draft and develop or acquire any way you can. When I was in Minnesota, I think we went to the playoffs with six different quarterbacks if I’m not mistaken. That’s not ideal, but you can still win if you don’t have the franchise guy. You can still win, but obviously, we’re looking.”
Paton seems to sincerely believe that Lock can develop. But development takes time and Paton might not be of a mind to wait, depending on whether he pinpoints an available upgrade.
Big Decisions on Miller, Simmons, Harris are on Backburner
Everyone wants to know whether Paton will exercise the Broncos' team option on Von Miller. Entering the final year of his deal, Miller's contract is a team option that if exercised will cost the Broncos upwards of $18 million for 2021.
Meanwhile, Miller is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Parker Police Department in Colorado. He has not been charged with a crime at this point. How that situation resolves will inform Paton's decision in a big way.
Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons and defensive lineman Shelby Harris are set to be unrestricted free agents. Paton will need to decide whether to pursue a deal with both, but that call, respectively, can't be made until the GM knows his plan with expensive vets like Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye who cost the Broncos a lot of coin but didn't play much in 2020.
So, when will Paton get to these monumental decisions? Answer: in due time.
“I think all those tough decisions start when I can meet with the coaches and the scouting staff, and that’s where you get your plan for the offseason. That’s when it starts," Paton said
Paton hasn't met with the coaching staff nor the scouting department yet. He expects that to happen within the next week or two, which will be followed with a sitdown with cap czar Rich Hurtado.
From there, Paton's plan of action should coalesce quickly.
"I haven’t been with the coaches yet," Paton said. "I haven’t been with the scouts yet, so until you have your meetings and get your plan for the offseason and develop your needs in how we’re going to fill them through draft or free agency, that’s when it all starts. When we can all get together and we can talk and have player evaluations, that’s when it all starts.”
There Will be
Blood No Shortcuts
Paton's core philosophy starts by building through the draft. It's not just about making the right picks, it's about developing them into contributors, if not Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.
Along the way, though, don't expect Paton to cut corners or seek a quick-fix. The Broncos will seek to build a winner the old-fashioned way.
“My philosophy and vision, it starts with the process driven by our scouting department. There’ll be no shortcuts," Paton said. "We’re going to embrace the day to day, we’re going to embrace the grind, and we’re going to do it together. Drafting and developing players will be our foundation. It’s going to be the lifeblood of this football team. We’re going to be aggressive, but we’re not going to be reckless in player acquisition. We’re going to leave no stone unturned."
What does "no shortcuts" mean exactly? It means striking that balance between being aggressive while resisting falling prey to outright recklessness.
It means bowing out of a deal that would require the Broncos to give up multiple first-round picks to acquire a disgruntled quarterback. It means doing it the hard way.
Collaboration: It Takes a Village
"There’s going to be a collaborative, positive and diverse work environment with free-flowing ideas," Paton said. "Every decision made will be a consensus. It’s not going to be my decision, it’s not going to be Vic’s [Fangio] or John’s, it’s going to be a Denver Broncos decision."
Paton plans to turn the Broncos' scouting and personnel process into a democracy of sorts. It sounds good. Heck, let's involve everyone. Should the Broncos push to acquire Deshaun Watson from Houston? Let's ask the lunch people in the cafeteria.
I jest. But while it's true that a good leader involves his people and listens to the experts around him, at the end of the day, the buck stops with him. Ultimately, Paton will be responsible for every draft pick, trade, and free-agent acquisition the Broncos make.
The best leaders, and GMs, in the world, listen to their trusted advisors and scouts, get all the information and opinions, and then makes a decision. I can't imagine it's common for an NFL front office to reach perfect consensus on any player. But it sure sounds good in a sound byte.
Paton Will Hire a Right-Hand Man but Not 'til After Draft
During his 10-year front-office reign, Elway's right-hand man was Matt Russell. When Elway stepped down as GM, though, Russell retired.
Paton still hasn't decided on which personnel guys — both on the pro and draft side — he's going to keep beyond this scouting season. He plans to hire his own 'right-hand' but that won't happen until the draft is over.
“Eventually, I will be hiring a right-hand man, and it is my call 100 percent," Paton said. "I don’t know the timetable of that. I’m not in a big hurry. I really want to evaluate the staff here. I’ve heard great things about the college and pro staff, so I want to see their process. I want to get to know the guys and go through a scouting season with them before really making any decisions.”
Paton understands the value of having that lieutenant at his wing. He served as that guy to Minnesota GM Rick Spielman for 14 years. Choosing who that will be isn't likely to happen until Paton gets through this "scouting season" (aka the draft).