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George Paton takes reluctant bow at NFL owners meetings

Broncos GM has been around long enough to know Super Bowls are not won in March. (But Russell Wilson can help get them there).

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Lots of lauds, George Paton.

Praise for Paton. In George we trust.

Here at the posh The Breakers resort with its lobby cathedral ceiling lobby, elaborate, 20-lamp chandeliers and room rates routinely north of $1,200 a night, the Broncos’ general manager has been the toast of the NFL owners meetings that started Sunday.

This is what pulling off a trade for star quarterback Russell Wilson will do for a guy.

By all appearances, Paton has remained Humble George. To make sure, his family is joining him here Sunday night.

"You know, I don’t get out much," Paton said during a sit-down interview with 9NEWS as waves from the Atlantic Ocean crashed in behind him. "My family doesn’t praise me. The fact of the matter is we won 7 games. I’m a 7-10 GM. That’s on me, that’s on our whole building. No one cares if you win the offseason. They only care if you win the regular season. We keep everything in perspective, I know I do."

Credit: KUSA Sports

Humility won’t impede Paton from becoming the frontrunner for the NFL’s 2022 Executive of the Year Award after he acquired Wilson in exchange for two first-round draft picks, two in the second round, and three players – Noah Fant, Drew Lock and Shelby Harris. A scribe or two milling about the luxurious lobby here asked if Paton gave up a little much. Talking through it, the reporters were reminded of what the Cleveland Browns gave up for Deshaun Watson, who may be .

The overwhelming sentiment from Broncos Country is it didn’t matter what Paton gave up for Russell Wilson. All that matters is he got him. Drive by Broncos headquarters and if it’s a particularly hot day, you might hallucinate the structure pulsating from its excited energy. Then again, that could have been new head coach Nathaniel Hackett bouncing off the walls.

"We had a lot of energy with coach Hackett and all the great coaches he’s hired," Paton said. "A lot of buzz in the building. Then you go out and get Russ. It really changes the dynamic of the building, where the players are, in the community. There’s just a lot of buzz around Russ and what he brings to the table.

"And what he brings to the table is work. And he’s obsessed with working. And that's because he’s obsessed with winning. So yeah there’s a lot of buzz but you’ve got to put it to work and our team knows that and it starts – they’re working now. And it starts April 11 when they show up."

Yep, the Russell Gang will report for the start of the Broncos’ offseason program on April 11. The team could have started April 4, but then the team would have had to take a week off in the middle of it. Now, they can run through conditioning, OTAs (offseason training activities) and minicamps straight through till mid-June.

Other topics 9NEWS discussed with Paton about the noisy din of nature’s waves:

Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) plays in an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday, Sept 9, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Don Montague)

*Randy Gregory. It was mildly surprising Paton and the Broncos signed the former Nebraska and Dallas Cowboy edge rusher to a five-year, $70 million contract. Then again, not surprising because Paton at his core is a scout. A player evaluator who loves watching football film. Eats tape for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And Gregory is a tantalizing  talent who jumps off the tape.

But what brought on a few head scratches is Paton seems to be a methodical, even cautious type – at least until he pulled off the bold trade for Wilson -- who would have hesitated to sign a player with such a checkered past. Gregory was suspended numerous times for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy believed to be primarily from a marijuana habit. However, he has been trouble-free the past two years and he is represented by Peter Schaffer, the Denver-based agent who is known for rehabbing the stars.

"It’s a fun watch," Paton said of Gregory’s film. "First of all you’ve got to get with the tape and how does he fit with the team? And he brings everything we’re looking for in an outside backer. In the run game, he’s very disruptive. He’s long, he’s strong, he’s passionate and he’s a prototypical pass rusher with his burst, explosion. And so we watched all the outside backers in free agency, he’s the one that jumped off the tape.

"We all watched him individually, then we came together and watched him as a group. Had the coaches watch him. We had a lot of eyes on him."

OK, the talent is indisputable.

"And then you do the background, obviously, like we do with every player but the background with him was a little more complicated," Paton said. "And where he started to where he is now, working through that whole process we feel great about the signing. You talk to anyone who was in Dallas, they love him. His work ethic, leadership – he was on their leadership council with the Cowboys. He’s going to bring that here. We feel great about him as a player and even more so as a person."

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

*The draft. Paton said this year’s draft is exceptionally strong in the middle rounds.

"It better be," he said.

Paton’s typical self-deprecating humor was in line with the Broncos not having their No. 9 and 40 overall selections, as they now belong to Wilson’s former team in Seattle. The Broncos don’t pick until the No. 64 and final selection in the second round, but then have two choices in the third round and two more in the fourth.

Kidding aside.

"We do think it’s strong in the middle," Paton said. "We have a lot of picks in that area. If we can get another pass rusher, I think it’s strong in the edge draft. I think there’s some corners available, inside linebackers. We think it’s a pretty good defensive draft. And then offensively, I think you can address the O-line, there’s always receivers. So I think it’s a pretty good draft overall, especially where we’re picking."

*Remaining roster needs.

"I talked about the O-line," Paton said. "Could use another tight end. Could use another runner. We can use another D-Lineman. Corner, obviously we’re going to have to address the corner position. We have a ways to go, but we filled a lot of needs in free agency to where we can take the best player (in the draft)."

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

*Javonte and who?

Another running back, Paton said. The type of running back may depend on whether the Broncos are ready to make Javonte Williams the 1A running back after he served the 1B role as a rookie to Melvin Gordon last year. (And, by the way, Paton did not have send any of his top three draft picks from a year ago – cornerback Pat Surtain II, Williams and guard Quinn Meinerz – to Seattle in the Wilson trade).

"I think he’s ready for whatever we throw at him -- 1A, 1B, 1C, he’s a really good player," Paton said. "I think he can be one of the top runners in the NFL going into his second year. He’s that good. The maturity he showed as a rookie, his ability to break tackles, vision. He has it all as a back and can’t wait to see, because he’s such a hard worker, what he brings into the next year."

*Expectations for the Broncos in 2022?

"You know me. We’re going to start working April 11," Paton said. "We’re going to build every day to put a winner on the field."

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