ENGLEWOOD – George Paton is notoriously picky, bypassing opportunity after opportunity over the past decade before accepting John Elway’s to succeed him as general manager of the Denver Broncos.
“I knew he wasn’t going to take a job to say, ‘I’m a GM,’” said his mentor, Vikings GM Rick Spielman. “It had to be a very special place, and I think Denver presented everything that he was looking for to leave here, not only from the business side and the football side, but also from the family side.”
Paton, a 50-year-old football lifer who has spent half his life in the NFL, said during his introductory news conference Tuesday that he made an immediate connection with Elway, team president Joe Ellis and head coach Vic Fangio when he interviewed for the job.
Then, there’s the franchise itself, the passionate fanbase, a history of team ownership providing everything a front office could ask for – even with the franchise’s ownership uncertain because of a Bowlen family feud.
“The more I dug in, the more I learned, the more I really wanted this job – bad,” Paton said. “This was a job I really wanted.”
Succeeding Elway, he said, was “an incredible honor, especially for a kid who grew up in Los Angeles.”
Then, Paton turned to Elway, who is staying on as president of football operations, and continued, telling him, “John, I don’t take that lightly. I look forward for you to be a sounding board for me as we move forward.”
That’s exactly what Elway pledged he’d be for Paton, a sort of sage consultant who will offer his opinion, but won’t meddle as Paton embarks on a journey to reverse the team’s five-year slide into mediocrity that’s followed the franchise’s third Super Bowl title.
Posed with the hypothetical question if Paton wanted to trade a trio of first-round picks and a couple of young players for a franchise quarterback, Elway said that would be Paton’s call.
“I’m going to add my input when it has a huge impact, when you have something that big,” Elway said. “Ultimately, it’s going to be George’s decision. I’m going to be there to support him, to give my opinions and give him everything I would look at when I was the GM.
“Once he hears everything, he will still be the one making that decision because that’s his role and that’s his responsibility,” Elway added. “I’m here to support him in any way I possibly can and to give him my viewpoints, but it’s going to be his decision.”
The Broncos’ uncertain ownership situation, which is headed to court next summer and could lead to a sale of the $3.5 billion franchise, wasn’t a red flag for Paton, who has interviewed with the 49ers, Jets, Browns and Lions in recent years.
“Listen, they have everything here to win. It’s not a concern of mine,” Paton said. “We just need to win. You can’t worry about things we can’t control.”
What is in Paton’s command now are the futures of Von Miller and Justin Simmons in Denver.
The Broncos have until the day before the new league year begins in March to pick up Miller’s option that would engage the 2021 season of the six-year deal he signed after his Super Bowl 50 MVP performance and guarantee $7 million of his $18 million base salary.
Simmons is coming off a career year after playing on the $11.4 million franchise tag in 2020, which cemented his standing as one of the league’s premier safeties.
“George is going to do his work on both of those situations,” Elway said. “He has to get acclimated to the new position and the new job and get to know everybody. There’s a lot of different things that are going to go on. Von and Justin are two of the bigger things he’s going to have to address.
“When I moved up, I planned on being a sounding board for him, and any information I can give him to help him make a better decision, I’m going to do. That’s kind of my role and the role I’m looking forward to, especially with knowing everybody in the building and the team in order to help George and support him in any way I can.”
Paton also will have a big say about quarterback Drew Lock’s future. Lock went 4-9 last season, led the league in turnovers and had the lowest completion percentage of any starting QB in the NFL.
“I liked Drew coming out of the draft – big arm, athletic, playmaker,” Paton said. “I haven’t studied him (lately). I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop.”
Lock is the 10th starting quarterback in Denver since Peyton Manning retired a month after Super Bowl 50.
Even though Elway is bestowing final say on things, Paton’s guiding philosophy is to build a culture of collaboration and consensus.
“I truly believe that everyone needs to feel like they’re a part of something and that they have ownership within whatever they’re doing, whether it’s a football team, whether it’s a law firm,” Paton said. “If they’re doing the work, they need to be heard.
“I truly believe that, and Rick Spielman really is amazing at listening, so I got it from Rick, but you really have to listen and take everyone’s opinion before you make a decision. If everyone feels like they’re part of something, then I think you’re going to get there best. If you empower your employees, I think you’re going to get their best. So, that’s my guiding principle, trying to get everyone together.”