Some of George Paton‘s draft choices as Broncos GM have become core pieces now at Sean Payton‘s disposal, and Denver’s new HC said upon taking the job the staffer with an identical-sounding surname reminded him of Saints GM Mickey Loomis. But rumors of Payton wanting to bring in one of his ex-New Orleans coworkers emerged this offseason.
Although the Broncos have turned their season around after a 1-5 start, Paton having predated Payton in Denver does make for a situation to monitor. Many look to be doing so, with the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora indicating steady rumblings about Paton not being back in Denver next year have surfaced.
Paton played a central role in negotiating Payton’s trade compensation with Loomis in January, doing so as it was widely expected his own role would diminish as a result of the Broncos acquiring a high-profile HC. CEO Greg Penner, who was not in place when Paton was hired, changed the Broncos’ power structure last December by indicating the next HC would report to ownership.
Upon being hired, Payton pushed back on a desire to have full-on control. But he has also been connected to wanting to bring in Jeff Ireland, with whom he worked for six years in New Orleans. Ireland, the former Jets GM, remains in place as the Saints’ assistant GM. Payton also mentioned Paton, among others, as being responsible for the franchise’s 2022 troubles.
The third-year Broncos GM’s performance can be looked at through multiple lenses. The longtime Vikings exec was in place to help bring Payton to town, doing so after showing his acumen in the draft. In Paton’s first draft, the Broncos selected Patrick Surtain, Javonte Williams and ascending guard Quinn Meinerz in the first three rounds. Outside linebacker regulars Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper also came to Denver from Ohio State in the 2021 draft. Denver’s next two drafts started late due to the trades for Payton and Russell Wilson, the latter introducing a complication for Paton.
While Wilson has steadied his career after a woeful first season in Denver, the former Seahawks star has not proven worth the trade compensation (headlined by two first-round picks and two seconds) or $49MM-per-year extension — one that complicates the Broncos’ cap sheet in 2024. Denver’s new ownership arriving drove the Wilson extension past the finish line, despite two years remaining on his previous contract, but Paton also hired the coach who proved the catalyst for the quarterback’s 2022 freefall. The Broncos became the third team since the 1970 merger to fire a first-year head coach (Nathaniel Hackett) before the season ended. The team has also already bailed on Randy Gregory, a Paton free agency addition in 2022.
Paton, 53, was a sought-after GM candidate for years. The former Rick Spielman right-hand man was a regular on the GM interview circuit, eventually agreeing to succeed John Elway in Denver in January 2021. Elway took a different position in the Broncos organization before eventually stepping away earlier this year. The Broncos’ next five games may have an impact on Paton’s 2024 standing, but this storyline will be worth watching regardless of how the 6-6 team closes out the season.