ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway’s jet left from southern California on Monday evening and landed back in Centennial a couple hours later, as the Broncos’ outgoing general manager got in position to soon lateral final-say authority to his hand-picked successor.
Tuesday is a big day for the Elway-led Broncos’ GM search committee as it finished up a second interview with New Orleans' Saints assistant general manager Terry Fontenot around mid-morning and is currently meeting with Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton at team headquarters, sources tell 9News. Paton held his first Zoom interview with the Broncos on Friday; Fontenot on Saturday.
Paton flew in by private plane Tuesday morning to meet with search committee members Elway, Broncos’ chief executive officer Joe Ellis, head coach Vic Fangio and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth. Paton, 51, is the most qualified candidate as he’s already handled the role of GM for several years alongside Rick Spielman in the Vikings’ personnel structure.
He also has a decided advantage of meeting the Broncos' brass in person. He arrived at the team's facility around 10:15 a.m. and was quickly taken for COVID testing. Around 11 a.m., Paton met with Elway and Fangio who along with operations boss Chip Conway gave him a tour of the facilities from the weight building, the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, the team auditorium, locker room, upstairs offices, cafeteria and everything else at UCHealth Training Center.
Fontenot, 40, could not interview in person as his Saints are still in the playoffs. He has been with the Saints for 18 years, working his way from the bottom level to where he is now in the team’s inner-decision-making circle with head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis.
Should Fontenot get a GM job -- he reportedly is also a finalist for the top job in Atlanta and also has drawn interest from Detroit and Jacksonville -- the Saints would receive a third-round compensatory selection in the 2021 and 2022 drafts under the NFL's new diversity rule aimed at providing incentives for teams to hire minority head coaches and general managers.
If Paton becomes the Broncos' next GM -- and that's the way to bet -- Vikings' recent history suggests he may make a run for a top tier quarterback. In 2017, Case Keenum had a terrific year replacing the injured Sam Bradford in leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record and NFC Championship Game.
Yet, a couple months later, the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins -- a top 12 QB, perhaps, but never top 5-caliber -- as a QB upgrade and set Keenum free to the market where he signed with the Broncos.
Prior to that, the Vikings traded away a first- and fourth-draft pick for veteran Sam Bradford. The Spielman-Paton era also included a last hurrah for 40-something quarterback Brett Favre, who did have one last great year in him in 2009, Matt Cassel and Gus Frerotte.
Not that Broncos' third-year quarterback Drew Lock should pack his bags. The Vikings did go with young, top-round draft picks in Tarvaris Jackson (2007), Christian Ponder (2011-12) and Teddy Bridgewater (2014-15).
While it appears the Broncos are zeroing in on Paton and Fontenot, a third candidate, Bears’ assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, remains in the mix. Kelly worked eight years with the Broncos in various scouting roles from 2007-14, before moving on to Chicago, where he worked four years with Fangio, who from 2015-18 was the Bears’ defensive coordinator.
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