On Wednesday, the Denver Broncos pilfered entrenched Vice President of Player Personnel, George Paton, from the Minnesota Vikings. Paton also carried the title of Assistant General Manager to Rick Spielman, and now takes his work experience westward to Denver, Colorado.
Paton has an impressive resume, albeit some of the credit is inherently shared with Spielman. He joined the Vikings organization 14 years ago – almost a package deal with Spielman’s arrival in Minnesota. Paton has helped generate a cumulative 55 Pro Bowls by more than two dozen various players that have earned the Hawaii-laden recognition.
Last week, Broncos icon John Elway took a step back (although he claimed to elevate himself at the same time?) from his general management role after a half-decade of underachievement. Denver won a Super Bowl in 2015 behind a beastly defense and decrepit Peyton Manning but has been average-to-bad following the Lombardy trophy hoist. Indeed, Elway – a quarterback – struck out on quarterback personnel about five times. From Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, to Joe Flacco, Elway has routinely flopped in solidifying life after Manning.
Now, Paton gets a turn. He is whispered to be a mighty brain within Vikings circles as described by ESPN’s Courtney Cronin:
As one source told me years ago when I inquired about the thing when I joined the beat, Paton is widely considered their "best evaluator of talent. Some will argue it's not even close. Not in the public eye often, but he's very much what makes up the muscle of the football side. https://t.co/04X9CtvXlq
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) January 13, 2021
Paton now takes the big job with an ever-present Elway hovering in the background.
Of course, attributing NFL success over a decade-and-a-half is a task involving several cast members. Paton was one of them in a leadership role. Since 2007, the Vikings notably drafted Adrian Peterson, Harrison Smith, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Xavier Rhodes, Percy Harvin, Eric Kendricks, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Everson Griffen, and Kyle Rudolph. They also acquired mainstay players like Adam Thielen, Linval Joseph, and Kirk Cousins.
The team was relatively successful, too. From 2007 to 2020, the Vikings boast a win-loss record of 118-104-2 (.531), which is the 11th-best in the NFL during the timeframe. The team that Paton will oversee in Denver has been the 13th-best franchise during the same period.
The Broncos tapped a dependable organization for a skilled and reputable personality in Paton. Whether he is the wonderful wizard of Oz behind the curtain or merely a disciple of Spielman, he can finally showcase himself during this mountainous change of scenery.
Spielman Loses Longtime Ally
Spielman and Paton united in 1997 with the Chicago Bears. Paton worked in the scouting and personnel department under Spielman – who was Director of Pro Personnel. Paton has effectively followed Spielman to every NFL stop for the last 24 years – from Chicago, Miami, to Minnesota.
It is unclear who will replace Paton in the immediacy of his departure. Spielman has never really had to do this, as Paton has been his right-hand man dating back to the era of the Bill Clinton presidency. But this is the nature of business. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemingly undertakes the challenge of picking up the coaching pieces each year. Minnesota has employed five offensive coordinators since 2014 and may be on their way to the sixth. In the front office, Spielman now gets a taste of turnover.
Denver Desperately Seeking a Turnaround
Instantaneously, Paton inherits a Denver organization starved for prosperity. The team climaxed in the middle of the 2010s when it toppled the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning retired, Gary Kubiak stayed in town for one more season before a temporary retirement, and the team failed to nail down Manning’s successor – repeatedly.
24-year-old Drew Lock is the current signal-caller. The perception of his performance through two NFL seasons is split. He may be amid a maturation process or he could be “not the guy.” Paton must decide to give Lock a third-year audition or move-and-shake in April’s draft to seize a quarterback. Denver has the 13th overall pick, and that is Switzerland for quarterback needs in most mock drafts at the moment. Paton might trade up to nab a player like Zack Wilson or Mac Jones. He might let it ride with Lock. Exploring a trade deal for Matthew Stafford is theoretically also on the table. According to John Elway, though, the decision will be Paton’s to formulate.
Any inklings of prosperity created by Paton will be cherished. Since Manning retired, the Broncos have been the NFL’s seventh-worst franchise by win percentage (.400). Teams like the Detroit Lions and Washington Football Team have more wins than Denver since the start of 2016.
The quest begins on offense. Denver ranks 31st in the NFL during the last five seasons in touchdown passes (95). For comparison, the Vikings rank ninth in the business via this metric at 136 passing touchdowns. Most of that is thanks to Kirk Cousins – who the Broncos pondered during his 2018 free agency.