The Denver Broncos have hired Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton to be their new general manager, a source close to the situation confirmed to Yahoo Sports.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported his hiring first, adding Paton is finalizing a six-year deal with the Broncos. The team later confirmed the front-office hiring.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 13, 2021
Among the candidates for the job, Paton beat reported finalist Terry Fontenot, the director of pro personnel with the New Orleans Saints. Paton and Fontenot received second interviews with the Broncos, although Paton’s most recent interview occurred in Denver while Fontenot’s happened by Zoom chat with the Saints still in the postseason.
In recent years, Paton has received a lot of interest from other prospective teams for their vacant GM spots. He has been picky and has interviewed only a handful of times.
A source previously indicated to Yahoo Sports that Paton considered the Broncos’ GM position a “dream job.”
“In many ways, I feel like this team is a sleeping giant,” Paton said in a statement, via the Broncos. “For me, it is the right place and the right time for this opportunity.”
Paton reportedly turned down the chance to interview for the New York Jets’ GM vacancy in 2019, and though he received a second interview with the Cleveland Browns for their GM opening last year, Paton pulled out of the running for the position that ultimately went to Andrew Berry after Paton reportedly questioned the setup of the Browns’ power structure.
There will be questions in Denver about that.
John Elway returned to the Broncos a decade ago and made them a perennial contender early in his tenure as general manager. The team has missed the playoffs each year since winning Super Bowl 50 in the 2015 season, and the roster has turned stale.
Several holes to fill in Denver
There are questions at quarterback with Drew Lock struggling more often than not in 2020, as well as on defense and the offensive line. In addition, head coach Vic Fangio could enter the 2021 season on the hot seat with a two-year mark of 12-20 and a last-place finish this past season at 5-11.
Elway announced last week he’d step down from his GM role and giving up roster control to the new GM, taking on the title of president of football operations in 2021. Paton now is expected to assume what Elway previously stated: that the new GM would possess “full authority to oversee the personnel and football departments.”
There has been a lot of speculation about what the structure of the team will look like in 2021, with Elway and CEO Joe Ellis expected to step down completely next winter. On top of that, there is Denver’s unsettled and awkward ownership situation that must be ironed out.
Paton appears cognizant of the challenge and excited for the opportunity.
“Throughout this process, I felt a real connection with Joe, John and Vic,” he told the team’s website. “It feels like home.”
Denver will select ninth overall in the first round of the 2021 draft. The team owns all of its original picks in Rounds 1-7, with two additional seventh-round picks. The Broncos are not expected to receive any compensatory picks in 2021.
The Broncos are currently 14th in the NFL in terms of salary for 2021, with 59 players under contract scheduled to hit the salary cap for $181.3 million.
There will be big decisions on several players, including Von Miller, who is slated to count $22.2 million against the 2021 cap after suffering a season-ending ankle injury last training camp; he’d count for $4.2 million in dead money if the team released or traded him this offseason.
Quarterback also figures to be a key area of focus this offseason. Lock might still get the first crack to prove he’s a quality starter, but the Broncos likely would add more competition.
Fangio’s defense also needs reinforcements after finishing 21st in yards allowed, 25th in interception rate and 25th in points allowed. Facing Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert twice per season for the next several years would figure to add extra emphasis on improving that side of the ball.
George Paton’s strong resume
Paton (which is pronounced like “Payton”) has been with the Vikings for the past 13 years, serving as GM Rick Spielman’s majordomo for most of that time. They each previously worked together with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears.
In his role as assistant GM, Paton helped coordinate scouting and personnel on the pro and college sides. He has also served as a college scouting director with the Bears and later as the pro scouting director in Miami.
The Vikings had some banner drafts in recent years, including a whopper of a class in 2015 when Minnesota drafted Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Trae Waynes. Other impressive picks in recent years include Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Dalvin Cook.
When Diggs expressed his unhappiness with the team, the Vikings traded him and a seventh-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for four draft picks. The first of those turned into 2020 first-round wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who finished last season with 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Minnesota also flipped some of those other selections to end up with three additional 2021 picks.
Paton played college football at UCLA as a defensive back from 1988-1991, spending one year as teammates with future No. 1 overall pick Troy Aikman.
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