ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — George Paton will discover soon enough Broncos Country couldn't care less about what he did, or how he did things, with the Minnesota Vikings.
The last non-Bronco-raised person put in charge of Denver’s football department can tell him all about it.
Josh McDaniels and the Patriot Way are still the most reviled words around these parts and it all took them about 1 ½ years to incite such Rocky Mountain-wide disgust. And that combination brought four Super Bowl appearances and three rings to Denver when they first showed up in 2009.
The Vikings never reached one Super Bowl during the 14 seasons Paton served as right-hand man to the team’s general manager Rick Spielman’s.
Still, now that the 10-year John Elway bridge from the regrettable McDaniels era has crumbled from need of repair to replacement, a new set of eyes had to come from somewhere. And for only having a top 5 quarterback once in the past 14 years – 40-year-old Brett Favre in 2009 – the Spielman-Paton era did put together several competitive teams thanks largely to a shrewd draft process.
Paton the deputy is now leaving his long-time sheriff’s side. Paton, and no one else, will be running the Broncos’ football department after he received a six-year contract that sources say is worth between $4 million and $5 million per year.
"I was so excited for him because there's no question that he is more than ready to run his own shop and to lead an organization with a historic club that has a great tradition out in Denver," Spielman said in a Zoom conference video call Thursday with members of the Denver media. "But in the same sense I'm losing probably—besides my brother Chris—my best friend. I know he's been more than prepared, even before he finally took this opportunity. He could have been a GM anytime in some of those interviews, but I know how selective he's been in making sure that it was the right fit. There was no question when he called me, and I knew that the Denver Broncos was finally the right fit for George Paton."
Spielman then added, "I knew if he was going to take a job, probably this was the year he was going to take it."
Which led to a naturally follow up. Paton had been considered a top GM candidate the past three or four years and there were reports he could have had the top job with the Jets and Browns had he not decided to withdraw. So why did Spielman think this was the year, and the Broncos were the team, for his long-time top assistant?
"There were so many GM jobs open this year," Spielman said. Houston, Denver and Detroit have recently filled their GM openings with Carolina and Atlanta reportedly close. Jacksonville and Washington are still going through the process. "I don't think I've ever remembered a year where so many GM jobs became open that there would be a right fit for George was this year because of the amount of jobs out there. I know when we talked about it, and in the years past we talk about all the organizations that he would go interview with and decide whether to go or not go, but I knew when we were talking about Denver that Denver is one of the top organizations in the NFL."
No doubt, the Broncos were a proud franchise in the 40-year period from 1977-2016 when they had more Super Bowl appearance (8) than losing seasons (6). There were two Super Bowl games and zero losing seasons during Elway’s first six seasons at the Broncos’ helm. The past four seasons, though, have plummeted the Broncos in the dubious company of the NFL’s bottom five teams.
As a solution to returning the Broncos to their winning ways, Elway resigned from his role as general manager and used his president of football operations job to hire Paton as his replacement.
"He is going to be very open minded," Spielman said. "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 indicated that Paton would not be allowed to steal away his favorite Vikings’ front-office employees and bring them with him to Denver.
"There are rules in place with restrictions on movement—I know there's some new rules this year," Spielman said.
Spielman then spoke at length and how many great people there are in the Vikings’ front office and how emotional it was for Paton and his cohorts when he said goodbye during a Zoom call with personnel staff Wednesday. Good for Paton’s old team. But it means nothing to Paton’s new team. To the Vikings’ credit, they prepared Paton for this opportunity. And may the Broncos benefit.
"There’s no one that's probably seen as much and been exposed to as much as I've exposed George to everything that goes on in this business," Spielman said. "I know he has a specific plan on what he needs to get accomplished when he gets there and he gets going. …
"I also think George will have some things that he wants to do differently. I'm excited for him because now, although when we talked and put our plan together he always had a big influence and a big input on what we've done and how we did things, and now he's got a chance to run the show there and I'm anxious to see what he puts in place and some of the ideas that he may have on how to move forward."
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