ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After a long day at Broncos headquarters -- an in-person interview that included meet-and-greats with all the team dignitaries from a masked-up social distance and a tour of the team's facilities -- it was time for general manager candidate George Paton to break bread with the team's inner circle.
Dinner reservations were made for 6 p.m. Tuesday at -- where else? -- Elway's Steakhouse in Cherry Creek. One member of the Broncos' four-man search committee, chief executive officer Joe Ellis, stayed behind to negotiate a contract with Paton's Chicago-based agent, Bryan Harlan.
Paton (pronounced Peyton) had a wedge salad and 12 ounce New York strip. The man he was about to replace as the Broncos' GM and the restaurant's namesake, John Elway, ordered a steak. Broncos' chief communications officer Patrick Smyth had an 8 ounce filet mignon. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio ordered a burger. (Hey, the Elway burger is recognized as one of the best in town, if not the best).
By the time dinner finished up around 8:30 p.m., the party of four knew Paton was the Broncos' new GM. He flew out of Centennial a little after 9 p.m. and back to his soon-to-be-former Minneapolis-area home. A six-year contract was finalized Wednesday morning and the announcement was made.
"All the candidates were great,'' Elway said in a phone interview with 9News. "We just felt George was the best fit for us."
New England's Dave Ziegler, New Orleans' Terry Fontenot (the runner-up choice), Chicago's Champ Kelly and the Broncos' own Brian Stark were the other finalists. Ziegler withdrew Sunday after he got a sweetened offer from coach Bill Belichick to stay in New England. Elway called the other three finalists Wednesday morning to thank them, compliment them and tell them of his decision to go with Paton.
"I really appreciated John reaching out like that,'' Stark said. "He was very complimentary and it was a good conversation. I was thankful he gave me the opportunity to get in front of him.''
Paton, 51, succeeds Elway as the man in charge of constructing the Broncos’ 53-man roster through trades, free-agent signings, draft picks, waiver claims and managing the team’s payroll.
"It is an honor to be named general manager of an iconic franchise with a championship tradition like the Denver Broncos,'' Paton said in a statement. His visit Tuesday included a private one-hour meeting with Brittany Bowlen, daughter of the Broncos' late Hall of Fame owner Pat Bowlen.
She talked about her father's commitment to winning, her own aspirations -- it's well known Brittany wants to one day succeed her father as the Broncos' controlling owner -- and living in Colorado.
"This organization has great resources, tremendous people, a talented young core of players and an outstanding coaching staff,'' Paton continued in his his statement. "In many ways, I feel like this team is a sleeping giant. For me, it is the right place and the right time for this opportunity. Throughout this process, I felt a real connection with Joe, John and Vic. It feels like home. We share the same values on winning and doing things the right way.''
For the past 14 years, Paton served as the right-hand man of Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman. They had six playoff appearances and two NFC Championship Game appearances in those 14 years but never reached the Super Bowl.
Elway had been the Broncos’ GM the past 10 years and while he had five AFC West titles in his first five years with two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl 50 title, his teams have fallen into a historic, four-year slump in which it posted a 23-41 record.
Elway remains as the Broncos’ president of football operations, but after leading a four-man search committee to find his replacement, he has promised to ease back into a consultant role.
"Early in this process, it became clear why George has been such a coveted GM candidate for so many years,'' Elway said in his statement. "He is a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations. With his experience in all aspects of the job-the college and pro sides, salary cap, trades, working with the head coach and bringing the staff together-George is more than ready to succeed in this role. George has waited and worked for the right opportunity, which shows that he is smart and serious about winning. We're thrilled to name George Paton as general manager of the Denver Broncos."
Fontenot got a second remote interview Tuesday morning with the Broncos. He finished up as Paton -- who by far was the most qualified experienced in terms of decision-making experience -- was visiting Broncos headquarters for his second interview that would be conducted in person. Paton took a POC COVID test -- as did all Broncos employees who came in contact with him Tuesday -- and even carried a contact tracer on him throughout the day.
Now that he has the job, Paton's first task will be to interview personnel employees currently on the Broncos' staff. He will return to Broncos headquarters Saturday with an introductory press conference tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.
Besides Elway, the Broncos must also replace his long-time top deputy Matt Russell, who retired from his position as director of player personnel. It would be a surprise if Paton did not make a diversity hire for his No. 2 front office position.
Paton had been close to receiving a GM position with several other teams before. Among the selling points Denver had is it brings him, his wife Barbara and children Bella and Beau closer to his hometown in Southern California.
"I believe in hard work, the grind and not taking any shortcuts to achieve our goals'' Paton said. "Drafting and developing players is the No. 1 priority. We will be aggressive-but not reckless-in adding talent to our roster.
"Our family has heard nothing but great things about Colorado, especially the passionate fans in Broncos Country. Along with my wife Barbara and children Bella and Beau, we are proud to now call Denver our home.
"I can't wait to get to work. Go Broncos!"
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