On Wednesday, the Denver Broncos announced the hiring of George Paton as the team's new general manager. The long-time personnel lieutenant of Minnesota Vikings' GM Rick Spielman was a hot commodity in this NFL hiring cycle.
Paton has long been known to be picky and selective when it came to accepting the first GM job of his career and despite the interest of several outside teams over the years, he bided his time looking for the right place and time to make his move. The Broncos job opened up and after two rounds of interviews, a match was made.
Paton credited the Broncos' "great resources, tremendous people, a talented young core of players and an outstanding coaching staff" as the key selling points for taking the job. Notice the last thing he said there about the coaching staff.
Vic Fangio and his coaching staff will be somewhat foisted upon Paton in his first year as GM but it turns out, that might not have been the worst thing to the 51-year-old personnel veteran. Paton competed against Fangio's Chicago Bears from 2015-18 and worked with Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in Minnesota from 2016-17, so the new GM has more than a base familiarity with the coaching staff he inherits.
It turns out, the feeling was mutual. According to 9NEWS' insider Mike Klis, Paton was Fangio's first choice to fill the Broncos GM vacancy.
"What I do know is that George Paton was Vic Fangio's No. 1 guy," Klis told 104.3 The FAN's Stokley and Zach show on Wednesday. "Vic wanted this guy. And some of the other candidates, like Dave Ziegler, a young up-and-comer, [he's] got a little edge to him—I don't know—I just think the experience factor. I think Vic felt more comfortable with Paton. Experience likes experience. They believe in it. They know how tough it is to survive in this league, to do a good job in this league."
Indeed, now in the fourth decade of his NFL coaching career, Fangio understands and appreciates the value of experience. Paton is also known as a "grinder", like Fangio, which is requisite for any successful NFL GM.
"I'm sure Vic believes in the fact that Paton has done it, to the extent that he had. Now, I don't think he had the final-say authority," Klis told hosts Brandon Stokley and Zach Bye. "I think [president of football operations John] Elway did, along with [CEO] Joe Ellis. Those two had it maybe jointly—maybe John a bit more. I think Vic had some influence. I don't know what percentage to give to Vic Fangio but he's one reason why Paton's the general manager today."
For fans who are certain that Paton is stepping into some sort of puppet job with Elway behind the curtain pulling the strings, the most plugged-in insider at UCHealth Training Center would beg to differ.
"I do think John's going to step away now," Klis told Stokley and Zach. "I don't think you'll see him in the office too much."
For now, Paton and Fangio will work hand-in-glove. Call it the Paton/Fangio era. But Klis was quick to point out that this regime could shift to a Paton dictatorship (of sorts) a year from now if Fangio's Broncos fail to launch again in 2021. Under this new GM/HC partnership, could Fangio survive another 6-10-type finish?
"Probably not, nope," Klis told The FAN. "Then it becomes the Paton era and he picks his head coach. That's the way that'll work."
Fangio is believed to have gotten a pass from Elway and Ellis this time around because of the epidemic of injuries the Broncos suffered. It was literally one catastrophic injury after another with at least one player landing on injured reserve after each game it seemed for weeks and weeks in a row.
Don't expect Paton to offer up Fangio another mulligan a year from now if the Broncos finish with a sub-.500 record again, regardless of the injury bug.
"I'm saying Vic's going to have to go—you have to measure it," Klis told Stokley and Zach. "This year, for instance, this year, 5-11 had the caveats of all the injuries right away. With the COVID—there were extenuating circumstances and they did give Vic somewhat of a pass. I don't think he'll get as much of a pass [this year]. But if they have devastating injuries again next year and they go 8-8, maybe they do hang in there one more year with Vic."
Injuries happen. It's a big part of the game and an aspect that teams have to plan for. Most head coaches don't get the benefit of the doubt because the truth is, all NFL teams have to use their wits, coaching acumen, and roster depth to overcome the vagaries of the injury bug each year.
"Courtland Sutton and Von Miller were flat-out the top-two players on each side of the ball and they were gone all year," Klis told The FAN. "And I think that was the extenuating circumstance. Now all of that that happened, guys, what we just saw, had they overcome those injuries and they were 9-7 this year, I think John Elway is still the general manager and Matt Russell is still the assistant. So changes were made. Changes were made. They did not put up with another 5-11 season. So you kind of take this process—right now, you want Vic and Paton to work."
All of Broncos Country is unified behind that sentiment. The Paton/Fangio partnership has to work out this year if the Broncos are going to snap this five-year playoff drought.
And in the event that all of Fangio's best-laid plans still see the Broncos come up well short of .500, Paton will likely cut bait and hire his own hand-picked head coach. For now, though, the focus is on awakening a roster that Paton views as a "sleeping giant."
First thing's first, Paton needs to get his boots on the ground at Dove Valley and begin the process of interviewing each personnel executive and scout to decide who stays and who goes. From there, the inexorable march to the big decisions of the offseason will commence.
Paton is expected to return to Denver on Saturday to get started.