DENVER — If last night you dreamt about Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson rocking orange and blue on a Mile High Sunday afternoon, this, right here, is what you want to hear from a new era in Broncos football.
Take it away John Elway, who on Tuesday made it sound like George Paton is the kind of risk-taking general manager who will take a swing if Watson becomes available: “The one thing you look at is they were always aggressive. It may not be the most popular thing to do, but if they thought it was the best thing for the Minnesota Vikings that’s what they did.”
Now comes the hard part for Paton, who won over the competitors among us by ranking success above status symbols: "It never consumed me to be a GM. I liked winning."
Pays well, and that six-year contract is pretty sweet, but Paton’s first year as GM will be marked by tough decisions. The Broncos should wave goodbye to Von Miller, for salary reasons if not for legal reasons, and say hello to the next face of the franchise, a stud quarterback.
While throwing a hissy fit to catch the first bus out of town is invariably a red flag on a star athlete, Derrick Deshaun Watson, 25, is the prized catch of this NFL offseason. Just glance over the starting QBs in the NFL’s championship Sunday: Allen, Rodgers, Mahomes, Brady.
The three teams that join Gonzaga in the NCAA Final Four won’t carry that level of star power.
The No. 1 priority of Denver’s new GM is the same as the former GM: find that franchise QB.
Paton strikes me as a gambling man when it comes to making moves, and the Broncos have the fifth-best odds to land Watson, who is unhappy in Houston, according to oddsmakers.
What a catch that would be in Colorado. Convince the Texans they should strike a deal, and Paton locks down executive of the year in Year 1 before they've played a game. There is no doubt in my mind Paton would give the old college try when it comes to trading for Watson. Shoot, Paton just helped the Vikings to six playoff berths with six different quarterbacks — going against Aaron Rodgers in the NFC North. You think he really wants to spin the QB revolving door for another 13 years against Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West?
“(Swapping out quarterbacks) is not ideal. But you can still win if you don’t have the franchise guy. You can still win. But obviously we’re looking,” Paton said.
In other words, not a chance he’s showing up to a gunslinger fight with a Super Soaker again.
“The quarterback's the most important position in sports. So if you don’t have stability at quarterback you’re going to have a hard time sustaining and winning,” Paton said. “I think we all want the franchise quarterback. That’s your No. 1 goal — to try and draft and develop or acquire (one) any way you can.”
Reading between the sound bites, safety Justin Simmons is as sure as signed to a long-term deal in Denver. That’s because of how many times Paton underscored his core philosophy that “draft and develop” is the way to long-term success. Simmons was drafted and developed here. Call it a hunch he's really rich really soon.
Considering how many Broncos defeats were suffered with late-game breakdowns in the secondary, I doubt that Simmons is worth the size of contract he’ll get. But they don’t ask me.
Then there is Von. Paton had turned down at least a half-dozen overtures to become a GM.
What made him jump at the Broncos gig?
“I think when I got a call from John Elway,” Paton said.
So it’s difficult to imagine a first-time GM would risk his sterling reputation to bring back a player who reportedly is under investigation by the Parker police for domestic violence. Sad situation, for life and football reasons alike.
“Obviously Von and Justin are two of the bigger things he’s going to have to address," Elway said.
The move from Elway to Paton at general manager was both necessary and sensible.
Like Elway, Paton grew up in a football home with a football father in southern California.
“I knew at a young age I wanted to be like my dad,” Paton said.
Like Fangio, Paton's a 24/7 grinder with decades of NFL experience. Paton also enjoyed a steak dinner at Fangio’s house the other night. Hey, how come the rest of us weren't invited?
“He hasn’t been here long enough to get meatballs yet,” Fangio said. “He’s got to prove his worth before he gets meatballs.”
Yes, Deshaun Watson’s the big catch. But I can’t see it happening while the Jets (two first-round picks in 2021 and 2022) and Dolphins (multiple first-round picks and QB Tua Tagovailoa) own vastly superior trade chests. Once the Broncos swing and miss on Watson, what Paton should do is wheel and deal into the top five of the draft. Take quarterback Zach Wilson out of BYU.
It's his show now, with Elway's stamp of approval for a splashy move and few obligations to the players in place. And what was Paton’s core philosophy again?
Now I remember. Draft and develop.