One day removed from the news that the Denver Broncos have hired George Paton to serve as the new general manager, fans and media alike are still buzzing and studiously working to learn all they can about the Mile High City's new football czar.
A sure way to get background on a 20-year scouting veteran is via his colleagues and peers. Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman, whom Paton worked under for the last 14 years, took some time to answer the questions of Denver media on Thursday.
It's worth noting that Spielman is the godfather of Paton's son, Beau. That's how tight the Paton-Spielman bond is. One of the bytes that jumped out was Spielman's opinion on Paton's acumen as an evaluator of talent.
"Denver's getting an incredible talent evaluator—and you're not an incredible talent evaluator in my opinion unless you're sitting there willing to do the work and do all the extra work that it takes and willing to look under every stone to find talent, and George does that," Spielman said via Zoom.
Paton's experience resonated deeply with the Broncos' GM hiring committee which included president of football operations John Elway, CEO Joe Ellis, head coach Vic Fangio, and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth. There is little doubt that Paton was the most qualified candidate the Broncos interviewed and adding to that resume, in Spielman's opinion, was his character as a man.
“One, the character and what he stands for as a person—what he stands for now, as a family man. We are very similar in those regards," Spielman said.
When it comes to learning how to be a good talent evaluator, it's a skill-set that one must constantly work at. It takes a lot of time on task, repetition, and discernment. There has to be a considerable year-over-year body of work for an evaluator to hone his craft.
"You can't go and read it in a book, you can't take it in a class at a university, the only way that you become a very good talent evaluator is following the draft classes year in and year out and going back to assess where you did well—why did that work? Where did you fail? And reassess why it failed and make sure you don't make those same mistakes again, but you can't do that until you actually go through all those experiences.," Spielman said of Paton. "That's why I think George is so prepared for this, he's been through so many experiences with me side by side. Through all the trades we have done, through different acquisitions through the draft, he's seen everything happen from A to Z."
Working as Spielman's top lieutenant for all those years, surely some of his boss' philosophies, when it comes to free agency, trades, and the draft, rubbed off on Paton. If that's true, one thing Spielman said might hint at the strategy Paton might employ as Broncos GM.
"My philosophy has always been to be very active trading up and down on draft day accumulating (draft picks)," Spielman said. "I think last year we ended up with 15 draft picks and he was a critical part of leading those trades along with [Executive Vice President - Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski, our cap guy."
Although it might sound unkind, in his first year as a GM in the league, Paton will be saddled with a coaching staff he did not hand-pick. Paton will inherit Fangio and company but based on everything the new Broncos GM has said thus far, he thinks very, very highly of Fangio, calling the staff in Denver "exceptional."
Fangio played a part in Paton landing the job. We learned on Wednesday that Paton was Fangio's No. 1 candidate to get the gig. According to Spielman, Paton is a personnel guy who very quickly hits it off with coaches. Game recognizes game. Or maybe a better way of putting it is, grind recognizes grind.
"The other thing that really sticks out to me about George and his personality is how well respected he is amongst the coaches and how he relates to the coaches and builds their trust and builds a relationship with a coach," Spielman said. "I don't know how many times I've walked past his office and I’ve seen coaches sitting there talking with him or him down in coaches offices just sitting there talking football and talking about what we are looking for—or just talking with his friends. He has an incredible aura about him. He's a great listener and the relationships that he builds, especially with the coaching staff, is pretty unique.”
For those worried that Paton will step into Dove Valley and myopically make sweeping changes without input or consideration from the holdover scouts and coaches, you can set that concern aside. Paton surely has a vision and he has his philosophies but according to Spielman, when it comes to being a leader, one attribute that sets his former partner apart is his ability to listen to opposing views with an open mind.
“I think his leadership style—that's why we work so well together," Spielman said of Paton. 'We're opposites. He is—not that I'm not a good listener, so don't take that the wrong way (laughs). He is going to be very open-minded. From how we operated here, everybody has to have a voice in the decisions that you're making. When people feel they're a part of the decision—whether they agree or disagree—they felt they had their say on their opinion. That's the buy-in—getting everybody to buy in on that final decision. George's philosophy is very similar to that. I don’t want to put words into George's mouth, but I know he will take a lot of input from a lot of people. He is a great listener, and he has an even-keeled demeanor to the nth degree. Nothing rattles his cage."
Spielman's remarks were quite in-depth. We learned a lot about Paton that we didn't know before including that he is viewed as an "outside-the-box thinker."
The Broncos wanted a change. A new leaf had to be turned over. This team needed a new set of eyes and a fresh perspective and a philosophical makeover.
Paton is just the guy to bring it. One of the allures of the Broncos' job was the roster's young core and he said on Thursday that he believes it can be "developed quickly" to finally climb out of the AFC West doldrums.