During an NFL Combine interview with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, George Paton said “I’m sure there’s a draft pick or two that I wish we could reconsider, or a maybe free agent signing. I really don’t want to mention them because I have to deal with the players.”
I will admit it initially floored me that Paton was so candid about his first year. It should be obvious no general manager is going to pitch strikeouts with every move, but it was still refreshing to hear such honesty. It also raises immediate questions about what moves Paton alluded to. So I went and looked over my review of every move Paton made during his first year as general manager.
The Denver Broncos were not particularly active during free agency in 2021. They spent most of their resources retaining Justin Simmons, Von Miller, Kareem Jackson, and Shelby Harris. Beyond retaining their own talent, the Broncos did make a splash by signing Ronald Darby and Mike Boone during the first wave of free agency. They signed Kyle Fuller shortly after the Chicago Bears released him, and added Shamar Stephen in April.
I doubt we’ll ever know what decisions in the draft Paton would like to do over. Passing on tackles is notable when Garett Bolles is the only one with NFL experience on the current roster. Patrick Surtain II vs. Justin Fields and Mac Jones could always be a debate among Broncos Country, but I believe Paton’s “franchise corner” comment to NBC’s Peter King last preseason hints at how he views his first ever draft pick compared to the quarterback prospects. Surtain II quickly established himself as a shutdown corner as a rookie.
Kary Vincent Jr. is the only member of Paton’s first draft class who never played a regular season snap for the Broncos last year. The seventh round pick stuck to the active roster after the preseason despite making a limited impact, and Paton traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2023 sixth in November.
The other draft pick who had a limited impact in year one is safety Jamar Johnson, who played 38 special teams snaps. Paton’s second fifth round pick caught Covid-19 during training camp, which seemed to impact his ability to keep up with the rest of the defensive backs during the preseason. Johnson made the Broncos’ roster out of camp as the team’s fifth safety and didn’t see a snap in the regular season until week 14.
The other question I had as I listened to Paton’s interview is how much John Elway played a role during his first year as general manager. We’ll never fully know, but it’s worth remembering that Elway said he wanted to stay involved with major decisions as President of football operations 10 days before Paton was hired in January of 2021.
I was excited about is the opportunity to move up, still be involved with the football team, still oversee the head coach and the GM and be involved, not necessarily day-to-day, but to have input in the big decisions that we’re going to make. That allows me to still stay in touch, but also my seventh grandchild was born this morning and it’s time for me to spend some time with them too, and to be able to have that flexibility I looked at it as a very good opportunity for me.”
The interview is worth listening to in its entirety, as Paton is quite clear about where he sees the Broncos’ quarterback situation. He also talks about how his pitch to a veteran quarterback centers on the offensive weapons along with the defensive performance from 2021.