George Paton is furiously packing and preparing to fly to his new home in the Mile High City to take the reins of the Denver Broncos. Sure, John Elway will hold his nominal role as president of football operations, but where once the roster was his "baby", it's now been adopted by the Paton — the new GM.
First thing's first. What is Paton's read on the current state of the Broncos' roster?
"I have looked at it. I haven't done a total deep-dive," Paton told Phil Milani of the team website on Thursday. "I haven't had the time. But they do have a good core of young players and their record doesn't reflect that because they had so many injuries. But I do think that they do have a good core of young players, that with this coaching staff, will keep getting better. Yes, on the tape I evaluated, I do think it's a roster that can develop quickly."
In his statement accepting the GM job, Paton spoke to the young core of players the Broncos have and his belief that this team is a "sleeping giant." That first statement goes hand-in-hand with Paton's belief that the young core of players he inherits in Denver can turn the corner and "develop quickly" under the apt coaching hand of Vic Fangio and his staff.
When it comes to building a winner and imprinting his fresh perspective on a Broncos team that has languished and listed in recent years, Paton's first inclination is to be "aggressive, but not reckless." In his sit-down with the team site, the Broncos' GM elaborated on what that really means.
"It's about people, first of all," Paton told Milani. "The players, the people you bring into your organization. And then you have to draft and you have to develop. You have to draft and develop talent in this league to win and sustain so I think that's our philosophy. Now, we're going to be aggressive. We're going to acquire talent any way we can, whether it's free agency, practice-squad poaches, waiver claims—we're always going to look for talent. But drafting and developing will be our philosophy."
Look across the league. The true juggernauts — the true contenders — were built through the draft. Even the World-Champion Broncos of 2015 were a roster built through a series of excellent draft classes and punctuated with a handful of well-placed veteran free agents.
To be a winner and to "sustain" — to use Paton's verbiage — you have to draft well and you have to develop those players. Drafting well only gets a team so far. Every prospect who enters the league is a diamond in the rough, regardless of draft pedigree. It's up to the team that drafts each player to polish that rough gem into a true NFL jewel.
In Paton's estimation, though, it all starts with having an aggressive mindset. He further elaborated on what that means to him, foreshadowing perhaps how involved the Broncos will be with the free agents on the market, potential trades and even draft-day trades.
"I just think you have to know where you are as a team and that's really important before you can move forward," Paton said. "You really have to know where you are as a team and that, in turn, determines your aggressiveness. But I think you're involved in every deal that's out there and then you can discuss and collaborate and just determine if you want to make that jump. It's really important to be involved with everything so you don't miss a deal that may get by you. So we'll be aggressive—involved—but that doesn't mean we're going to jump."
Translation: Paton is a well-connected personnel guy with his hooks placed in every front office around the league. If and when Paton catches wind of an intriguing player garnering some buzz or rumor of being on the trade block, that's a call the Broncos make.
If a free agent that fits Paton's requirements hits the market, regardless of the perceived cost, that's a call the Broncos make. If the phone rings on draft day with an offer to trade up or down, that's a call Paton takes.
It never hurts to listen and after all, Rick Spielman — the GM Paton served as No. 2 in Minnesota for 14 years — is a big believer in stock-piling as many draft picks as possible. Why? Because, as Paton elucidated, NFL juggernauts "draft and develop" and you can't do the latter without the former.
By the way, being assertive and "involved in every deal" doesn't mean that the Broncos are going to land or consummate every deal. But it does mean Paton will have his finger on the pulse and be ready to pull the trigger if/when the stars align.
Listening to Paton talk about his front-office philosophy, even in this drip-fed format thus far, it's easy to see why he resonated so strongly with Elway, CEO Joe Ellis, and Fangio. It's safe to say that Paton's fresh outlook is going to be breath of fresh air for an oxygen-deprived Broncos squad moving forward.