The 2021 offseason has revealed, undoubtedly, that new Denver Broncos GM George Paton is interested in upgrading the quarterback room.
After years of being inside the Minnesota Vikings organization chasing a quarterback -- from drafting Christian Ponder in 2011 and Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, to trading for Sam Bradford in 2016, and signing Kirk Cousins in 2018, Paton's former club never was able to figure out the position and obtain a true perennial contender to compete with the likes of the Green Bay Packers and their back-to-back eras with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
Paton already attempted once to upgrade the quarterback position since taking the job in Denver, making an aggressive push to acquire Matt Stafford from Detroit before he was ultimately dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. Since then, most NFL insiders have pointed to such veteran free-agent options like Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, and Mitchell Trubisky as the most likely candidates the Broncos would bring in to compete with incumbent Drew Lock for the starting gig.
With so much speculation on the Broncos adding to the quarterback room via free agency, what about the options Paton has sitting on pick No. 9 in the NFL draft?
Up until recently, it has been radio silence for the Broncos as it pertains to drafting a quarterback early. With most reports stating the Broncos still very much like the upside and prospects of Lock, the idea of selecting a quarterback in Round 1 had been mostly hypothetical and with little-to-no verified reports or direct, public interest in a specific prospect.
That was until recently when it was revealed that Paton joined director of college scouting Brian Stark and QBs coach Mike Shula on a trip to attend North Dakota State's pro day. Sure, the Broncos’ brain trust also got a passing glance at Bison offensive lineman Dillon Radunz, but don't get it twisted; given the pandemic and how limited pre-draft access is for NFL teams, as well as how valuable Paton’s time is with free agency rapidly approaching, the Broncos were in Fargo, ND, to get eyes on 20-year-old quarterback Trey Lance.
As reported by NFL.com insider and Broncos beat writer James Palmer, the attendance of Paton at NDSU's pro day should draw speculation given how little the team has been linked to the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 draft class to date. According to Palmer, besides Paton, there were a total of nine general managers in attendance, all of whom on teams that have been heavily linked to signal-callers this draft cycle.
It does raise a little bit of a flag, if you want to read into it, that George Paton goes to North Dakota State and he goes and watches Trey Lance in person, along with his quarterback coach Mike Shula to keep an eye on what they could potentially see.
Palmer would go on to draw connections to the Broncos' interest Lance, but potentially upgrading the quarterback position via the draft in general.
A couple weeks ago, I did ask George Paton directly ‘is a quarterback in play with you guys at number nine?’ He said, ‘all positions are in play at nine. If it’s the top person on our board, we are going to take them.’ So that shows they will make the jump and pull the trigger on a quarterback at number nine if that is the play and the player they believe best fits that selection.
Given the resource allocation by the Vikings in wake of Bridgewater’s knee injury in 2016, maybe it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos heavily consider quarterbacks early. After all, while Lock has only had 18 starts to date, he had 50 starts in the SEC at Missouri and still displayed many of the same issues with his technique, leading to woeful accuracy.
Two years into his NFL career, those flaws have continued to rear their ugly heads. Lock played better down the stretch in 2020, but perhaps not to the extent for Paton and the Broncos to be fully committed to him as the 'understood' QB going forward.
Whether via the draft or free agency, the Broncos are not totally satisfied with their QB position and will be on the lookout to bolster the room this offseason, according to Palmer.
They are open to competition with Drew Lock. They haven’t been really timid in putting that out there. But we have mainly thought it was with veterans. Perhaps it is within the draft. George Paton also likes to look and evaluate quarterbacks in person. He likes to see their decision-making, he likes to see the accuracy in person, he likes to see how they interact with their teammates in person. So him going directly, may be read into it that you will, that that could be an interest there with Trey Lance. A guy that doesn’t turn the football over, Drew Lock has had issues turning the football over, so potentially this is a team we could throw into the mix now at looking at a quarterback at number nine.
This is a shift in the perception of the Broncos pursuit of a quarterback to date. While it was made obvious that Paton would be 'in' on a Deshaun Watson if he were made available, or bring in some sort of veteran hedge option to give Lock competition and fortify the backup position, Denver's interest in first-round-caliber QB prospects have been elusive.
However, Paton traveling to Fargo to check in on Lance, especially considering how important in-person scouting is to the new GM, should paint a clearer picture of where the team’s decision-makers view the quarterback position.
The Broncos may be dating Lock currently, but the team is far from ready to propose, let alone move in together as Paton kicks the tires on potential upgrades at the position. Only time will tell whether the QB Paton covets will be there at pick No. 9, or whether a trade back is in the team's future, but at the very least, the Broncos are shopping and considering their options going forward.
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